(This article was published Wednesday, April 4, 2007, in the Macon Telegraph.)
By Sarah Meinecke
Auburn batter Mike Bianucci had just been quickly sent to the dugout by Mercer pitcher Cory Gearrin when teammate Daniel Spruill asked him a question: "What should I do?"
Spruill had been in the on-deck circle watching as Gearrin threw pitch after pitch past Bianucci on April 3 when the Tigers visited Claude Smith Field, and Spruill needed a little advice.
But all Bianucci could do was shrug his shoulders, and Spruill was caught looking by Gearrin for strike three and the second out. The Tigers may have earned the 5-1 victory, but the junior right-hander had all the control in the final two innings.
"He is an unbelievable weapon for us," Mercer head coach Craig Gibson said. "As good as he is, he is a good teammate, too. He's a special guy to be around. He's fun to watch."
That might explain all the attention Gearrin has garnered lately. It doesn't hurt that the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder opened the year by going 20 innings without giving up a single run and just two hits. To date, he has pitched 30 innings and given up just five hits.
That's not bad for a pitcher who wasn't actually used on the mound on a consistent basis until last season with the Young Harris Community College baseball team.
"I hear lots of stuff from a lot of different people, but I try to stay focused on the season," Gearrin said. "All the stuff that might happen is great, but it means nothing if we don't take care of business."
As Gibson said, Gearrin has something special. He pitched some in high school but actually was used more for his skills at the plate. It wasn't until he went to Young Harris that he was moved to the mound - a change that also affected his throwing motion.
Instead of going over the top, Gearrin started working on throwing sidearm for the Mountain Lions.
"It was weird at first, but I wanted to play, so I was going to do whatever it took to play,"Gearrin said of the switch. "It was weird at first, but I just made the adjustment."
And he continues to do so. At Young Harris, and at about the time that Gibson took notice of Gearrin, he was throwing in the upper 70s and low 80s, speeds his opponents now would no doubt like to see.
Gibson pushed to sign Gearrin, and the Tennessee native became a member of the team last November.
"I saw Cory at a junior college showcase, and when I saw him, I didn't know what role he would be for us," Gibson said. "His velocity was not what it is now. He's made a huge jump."
That would probably explain the reason Gearrin, who fills a closer spot for the Bears, went more than 10 innings at the beginning of the season without giving up a hit. Or it could be the fact that despite his sidearm delivery, Gearrin routinely throws in the 90s.
But with all the unexpected success, Gearrin also has had to deal with disappointments - the first of which came when the Bears traveled to Georgia State on Feb. 28 and Gearrin gave up his first hit of the season.
"It was brutal," Gearrin said. "There were two outs, and we were up by four or five. It wasn't a save situation. I was behind in the count 2-1, and I just wanted to get the inning over with, so I threw a fastball, and he stuck his bat out."
Although the pressure is off Gearrin, the attention is not. Gibson has been fielding phone calls about Gearrin from major league teams, and the Mercer coach said he doesn't expect Gearrin to be on the roster next season.
"He's only going to be here one year, but at least we got a year with him" Gibson said. "In June, he'll move on to professional baseball, and he is ready. I don't want to jinx him, but Cory is better than college baseball."
And that just might explain all the confused faces.
Contact Meinecke at 744-4248