Circumstances beyond anyone’s control have tested the 2017 Concordia baseball team in ways that no one could have ever imagined. Admits senior third baseman Casey Berg, “It’s been kind of emotional for everybody.”
Because of leaders like Berg, the Bulldogs remain a unified and stable bunch. Representative of an increasingly positive culture and upwardly trending program, Berg is taking off while leading off for third-year head coach Ryan Dupic.
Older brother Bryce, Dupic’s top assistant, knows Casey better than anyone inside the program. Says Bryce, “I think the potential has always been in him. I’ve watched him play for a long time. I even had the opportunity to play with him in high school. He just has the attitude that he wants to be great.”
The results so far have been pretty close to great for the transfer from North Iowa Area Community College. He’s setting the table with a robust .455 on-base percentage. He’s also batting .353 and slugging .541 with four home runs, proving his Concordia home run derby title in the fall was no fluke. His simplified explanation for the breakout season: “I just put in a lot of work offensively this offseason.”
In a rare feat, Casey pulverized two home runs in the same inning back on March 9 during the team’s stay at the Tucson Invitational. He has collected nine multiple hit games already and had a stretch this season when he reached base in 14-consecutive games.
Some of that success likely has to do with the comfort zone Casey has found at Concordia, a place that has provided a lot more structure than he had as a student at a junior college. He’s discovered inspiration at an institution that wasn’t on his radar until Dupic took the helm.
“He called me and talked to me pretty much every day for two weeks,” Casey said of Dupic. “I looked at the program and saw they were pretty bad. I was like, ‘No shot I’m coming here. 16-32. I don’t want to be a part of that.’ But he just convinced me. He’s a great guy and a great coach. I trusted him. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
The Bulldogs have been blessed with not just one, but two Bergs, the oldest pair of four Berg brothers. It wasn’t as if Bryce and Casey were so inseparable that they were determined to end up at the same place. Casey got here first, arriving in the fall of 2014 as a sophomore. Just a year-and-a-half older than Casey, Bryce graduated from Augustana College (S.D.), where he was an all-conference player. He knew he wanted to coach baseball. He just needed the right opportunity.
“I really wanted to coach in college after I had the opportunity to play college baseball,” Bryce said. “Concordia just seemed like the perfect fit. I called Coach Dupic probably about two days after I saw he had gotten the job here. He had recruited me when he was at Buena Vista. A couple weeks down the road I found out that my brother was going there. There were all these connections that built up. It made it way easier to want to accept the job.”
Since Bryce works closely with Bulldog hitters, a unique brotherly situation has had to work itself out. The two have always been competitive with each other. Bryce won Concordia’s home run derby in 2015. Then Casey did the same the following year.
The thing that makes life easier is that both Bergs are good at what they do. Bryce is a budding young coach. Casey is peaking and realizing his potential as a senior.
“I never could have imagined Bryce would be my coach one day, especially with him being a year-and-a-half older than me,” Casey said. “It’s worked out. I enjoy it a lot. He’s a great coach. It’s a little different for me and him because we’re brothers and we’ve always kind of been super competitive with each other. We give each other grief here and there. It’s nothing that I can’t handle.”
Bryce’s advice won’t fall on deaf ears when it comes to Casey. Says Bryce, “He’s not always afraid to voice his opinion back, but we get to where we need to be.” Their positive relationship is more important to the team than one might realize on the surface. Casey is one of the team’s more outgoing personalities. His teammates are fueled by the energy he exudes.
“Casey is our catalyst in multiple ways,” Dupic said. “We are going best when he is getting on base, making things happen on the bases and scoring runs. However, it’s much more than that for Casey. Even when he isn’t getting on base, when he is putting together competitive at bats, staying on an even keel and bringing positive energy to our team, our players feed off that and we perform at a much higher level. Casey’s personality and attitude are infectious, and what he does rubs off on others.”
People in northwest Iowa have known for quite some time about Casey, a three-time all-state performer at IKM-Manning High School. Dupic, then an assistant coach at Buena Vista University, was well aware of him. One of the first players to commit to Dupic at Concordia was Casey. In a way, they gambled on each other and on Concordia. There’s no looking back and there are no regrets.
Casey has felt this coming. ‘This’ is the rise of a baseball program built upon trust in Dupic, who has received heartfelt team support during a trying time in his life that has tested him with a personal health issue – through no fault of his own.
Thankfully, Dupic has the luxury of leaning upon players like Casey, a cornerstone recruit who has helped change the face and the attitude of a program.
Says Casey, “It’s been a really fun ride. It’s been really cool to see how the culture has changed so much since I’ve gotten here. The culture change from my sophomore year to now is incredible and it’s just going to keep growing. What Coach Dupic’s doing is fantastic and it’s just going to get way better. Our record doesn’t show it right now, but we’re going to finish real strong. It’s going to be a great year and the years to come are going to be even better.”