The following is an interview conducted with former Saint Xavier University Baseball standout relief pitcher Luke Gregerson, who is now a reliever with the San Diego Padres. The interview was held on May 14, 2009, at Wrigley Field's visiting team dugout prior to the start of the final game of a three-game series between the Chicago Cubs and the Padres. Special thanks to Peter Chase and Dani Holmes with the Cubs as well as Warren Miller with the Padres for helping to coordinate the interview.
It has to be a great feeling coming back to Chicago and getting the opportunity to play in front of so many of your family and friends on such a big stage. What has it been like these last few days? It has been very exciting. I probably had over 100 people come to the games, including last night (my first appearance of the series). When I came out on the mound, the whole place was screaming. I don't know how many of them were there to see me, but it was still a neat experience. I saw quite a few people that I haven't seen since high school and grade school trying get my attention in the stands, so it was a very exciting experience for me.
You are in town for a three-game series with the Cubs. You probably have a lot of people you want to catch up with. How much free time do you get outside of the games? We usually have to be at the field a few hours before the game, so depending on the start time we usually get some free time. I was able to meet up with my parents and some friends after the first two games, but was not able to stay out long because it was already pretty late and I had to go back to the hotel and get to bed to get ready for the next game. The best part of this trip was getting in on Sunday and having an off day Monday, so I was able to go and pick up my mother for Mother's Day and got to spend part of the day with her.
There was an article on the Padres website after you made your first MLB appearance that mentioned that you were extremely nervous and that the catcher could not give you the signs fast enough. How did your appearance against the Cubs last night compare to that first outing? It felt just like Opening Day at Petco Park all over again. All those nerves came rushing back, and that surprised me, because I was pretty calm after my second appearance of the season. It didn't take long for me to realize that this is not that much different than what I have been doing for years. The spotlight is bigger and more people are watching, but the game is still the same. Last night was different though, because there are so many friends and family watching and you really want to do well for them. It becomes more of a mental thing and you really have to focus, because in the back of your mind you keeping hearing a voice that keeps saying ?Don't mess up.'
Growing up near Chicago, which team did you follow the most...Cubs or White Sox? To be honest with you, I did like them both growing up. My grandfather and most of his side of the family are Cubs fans, but I was a third baseman growing up and always loved Robin Ventura on the White Sox. He is one of my all-time favorite players, so I was always stuck in the middle. I just decided one day that instead of trying to pick between the two teams I was going to follow both of them. I just love baseball in general.
The last couple of months have been a whirlwind for you. You were traded to the Padres, named to the Opening Day roster, made your Major League debut. How do you keep the obvious emotional rollercoaster in check with all the big changes that have occurred in your life recently? It has definitely been the craziest month-and-a-half of my life! I think that part of the reason I have been able to deal so well with the sudden changes is the fact that we don't really have that much time to sit and dwell. We have an off day here and there, but for the most part, every day is constant preparation for the next game. I think that has been a real positive for me personally, because with things moving so quickly I have not had time to sit and think about it and can just focus on my pitching.
You wrapped up your playing career at Saint Xavier University in 2006 and then spent a couple seasons in the minors. Any new pitches in your arsenal since fans saw you throwing for the Cougars? When I was at Saint Xavier, I basically threw a four-seam fastball and a slider. I throw a lot of sinkers now. When I threw my first game in rookie ball in the minors, I was making nice pitches right on the corners of the plate and I was getting shelled. My pitching coach at the time, Al Holland, told me I have to get more movement on my pitches so I showed him a certain grip that I worked on at Saint Xavier and I got a little sink out of it. He told me I should be throwing that pitch every time, so I have been working on it ever since. I have also been working on my change-up.
On the other side, what were some of the things you learned playing at Saint Xavier University that you still use as a foundation for your pitching career? I have to give credit to Coach Mike Dooley and his staff, especially Kevin Sefcik (former Cougar assistant and player, who played professionally with the Philadelphia Phillies). There is no way I would be where I am today without their guidance. When I came to SXU my freshman year, I told the coaches that I did not want to pitch, just play the field. After they saw how strong my arm was in the outfield, they pulled me aside one day and said that if I want to play at the next level I really have to start pitching again. They gave me the opportunity to play the outfield and then come in and close games out as a relief pitcher. Once I started pitching again, it didn't take long for some scouts to notice me and I was fortunate enough to get drafted.
A lot of potential high school players feel they have to go and sign with a big, high-profile Division I school to get noticed by Major League scouts and have a chance to play in the Big Leagues. You obviously did not take that route playing at Saint Xavier but still found success. What advice would you give a potential high school recruit eager to play at college and get noticed by MLB scouts? The best advice I could give a high school player wanting to play college baseball and get noticed by pro scouts is to go to a school where you will get a chance to play right away. It is much tougher to work on your skills and get noticed if you are riding the bench. In the grand scheme of things, playing baseball is the main objective, so I would recommend not going to a place where you may have to wait two or three years before getting a chance to play.