Molded For The Major Leagues

March 12, 2001

By Sam Walker

Three years ago Dave Bush came to Wake Forest from Devon, Pa., to be a catcher. But it wasn't long until he was discovered. After Deacon head coach George Greer and pitching coach Bobby Moranda saw him throwing one day in the outfield, they knew they had something special. They saw a raw talent, a player in the making, a closer whose ability could change the complexion of games. In retrospect, behind the plate is not where Bush was destined to be. Bush's high-powered velocity, coupled with his mental toughness, has Greer calling him a savior, and Moranda predicting the brightest of futures for the junior.

"He's our saver, and the guys on the staff know anytime they can bridge the gap and get to the eighth, we have a savior," Greer said. "We'll give him the ball because he's a great athlete, he fields his position well, has a tremendous outlook and mental capacity, and he's exactly what you want as a closer. He loves it, wants it, does not want to start, but he'll come in in the second inning and pitch if it means a championship.

"Once I saw him pitch here, I saw him as our closer. Once I saw him throw, I knew he could be in the big leagues."

Bush has the entire package in his role as the closer, and is still developing an even more extensive arsenal of pitches that professional scouts value. "His fastball is awesome," Moranda said. "He can touch 95 (miles per hour) and has an above-average major-league fastball with above-average movement. He has a four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball. When he throws the ball up in the zone, he throws it with a lot of life. His fastball is his best pitch, and he can hit both sides of the plate and can elevate it up and down. When you can do that, you're gong to get some people out.

"His breaking ball is thrown with a good down tilt, throws it hard, and it's very tough to hit. He throws it for a strike wherever he wants it. He throws it backdoor to a lefty, to the zone for right-handed hitters and can throw it in three spots. He has two pitches he has total command of. He has a good changeup, a vulcan change. We always thought he needed a change, and now he has one. He started throwing it up in the Cape Cod league last summer but even though he has it, we usually don't need it."

Bush has established himself as one of the best, if not the best, closers in the nation. He competed against the best collegiate talent in the country in the highly regarded Cape Cod League with Chatham, Mass., There he gave up just two runs the entire season and finished with a 0.80 ERA, and was named a league all-star.

"I went to Alaska my freshman summer, and most of the guys there are from the West Coast," Bush said. "They were guys I hadn't played against, which was neat. The Cape is different because it's high profile, a lot of guys from the East Coast play there, and there a lot of scouts and a lot of exposure. Both were really good for me. I learned how well I could do against the best players and what I can do to make myself better, which is be more consistent with my second and third pitches."

As a freshman, Bush earned his first career victory by pitching 6 1/3 shutout innings against Clemson in the ACC Tournament championship. Bush was named to the All-Tournament team after leading Wake to its second consecutive league title. The performance was nothing more than foreshadowing. Following Wake Forest's victory over New Orleans March 2, Bush had nine appearances in 11 games played and had four saves.

Bush said he has always thrown hard, but he liked catching. During that 1999 freshman season, he was the backup catcher for senior Andrew Riepe. That was his initial role. But as the season progressed, it became apparent that Riepe could handle the wear and tear behind the plate, and Bush started working on his pitching skills.

"Coach Mo (Moranda) has taught me a lot," Bush said. "I didn't really have any bad habits because I came here not knowing anything. He had something pretty easy to work with. I picked up some stuff from other people and put it together into something I'm comfortable with, and that's where I am now."

Bush is one step farther on the developmental curve, a step above most pitchers in the ACC and ready to be a key ingredient in leading the Deacons in the rugged ACC.

"There's no doubt about it, I love him," Moranda said. "We saw him throw out in the outfield one day, and I asked him, 'Hey, you ever pitch?' and he said, 'A couple of times in high school.' We basically put him on the rubber and he asked, 'Is this how I stand on the rubber? Is this how I hold the ball?' Today, he's the best reliever I've ever had in 15 years of coaching, no question. That's my boy, and I respect him because he works hard, is a great student, great person. He's basically worked his butt off to become one of the best players in the nation.

"He has a plus-plus makeup, and he's just so competitive. He wants to win badly, and he'll find a way. He just gained so much confidence as he went on. When he gets the ball, our guys feel like the game is over. And he can go back-to-back days, three days in a row because he has a fresh arm. That's why I think he can pitch in the big leagues as a set-up guy or closer. I've had some big leaguers, and this guy has big leagues written all over him."



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