Posted: May 24, 2019
By Bill Sheehan
Cal State Fullerton baseball center fielder Mitch Berryhill comes off as easygoing, laid-back guy, unless you are an opposing pitcher facing him from the mound.
"When I come up to bat, I'm ready to attack. I just know I'm better than the pitcher – that's the mentality you must have," said Berryhill. "If you go up to the plate with confidence, you will have a higher chance of success."
That aggressive approach has worked wonders for the senior from Utah. Berryhill is hitting .416, which would leave him with the fifth highest single-season batting average in school history. He's also has a .495 on-base percentage.
The Titans, 25-26 overall and 11-11 in the Big West, play their final two games Friday and Saturday on the road at Cal State Northridge. First pitch is 1 p.m. each day.
Going into the Northridge series, Berryhill was sixth in batting average nationally and 22nd in on-base percentage. The left-handed hitter who has eight doubles, three triples and 27 RBI, cites off-season workouts as well as an increased comfort level at the plate for his breakout season.
"I just settled down a little more and got used to Division 1 pitching. Having a lot more experience makes a huge difference," said Berryhill, 24, who transferred to Fullerton from Salt Lake City Community College as a junior.
"My teammates joke that I'm just seeing beach balls," he said. "But I'm taking some deeper breaths in the box, and the game has slowed down a lot for me this season."
First baseman Jake Pavletich marvels at his teammate's all-around game. "He's the fastest dude I've ever played with. Whether it's tracking down a ball in the outfield or beating a throw to first, he can really move. It's incredible to watch him do so well.
"He's really enjoying his last year in the college environment. He's much more comfortable, and you can see that in his dominating performance on the field."
Titan assistant coach Chad Baum, who recruited Berryhill, said he's "having one of the best seasons ever with the bat in Titan history. Mitch already had a good swing when he got here. A lot of his success came from his bunting game combined with his great speed."
Baum said Berryhill struggled offensively early this season. In the first week of April, the two watched game film to analyze Berryhill's swing, reviewing his popouts, groundouts and strikeouts as well as his hits. A few days later, the Titans traveled north for a three-game series against Cal Poly.
Berryhill had a career weekend in San Luis Obispo. He hit .833 (10-for-12) with four walks and a hit-by-pitch, reaching base 15 times in 17 plate appearances as the Titans won two out of three games. That performance earned him Big West Baseball Field Player of the Week honors.
"His weekend at Cal Poly was amazing," said Titan head coach Rick Vanderhook. "He got a really good feel for his swing. It was hit after hit."
Reaching base in 47 straight games
The 6-foot-tall Berryhill, who at one point this season reached base in 47 consecutive games, moved into the second position in the lineup during the Cal Poly series. "I think I've almost batted in every spot in my two years at Fullerton. The coaches trust me to get the job done. I've been very comfortable hitting second. I have the speed to put bunts down, and my hitting game is strong."
Baum agreed. "Mitch is a guy who has a lot of success when he has a lot of at-bats. He is an excellent bunter who unselfishly moves runners along. He is pretty darn good after he takes the first pitch. When you run that fast, you have an ability to do things that others can't."
Berryhill hails from Smithfield, Utah, which is about 75 miles north of Salt Lake City. He attended Sky View High School, where he was a four-year baseball performer. He played wide receiver on the school's football team for three years before giving baseball his undivided attention as a senior.
A natural-born hitter, he batted .550 as a junior and .480 as a senior but received no offers from Division 1 schools. He then served a two-year Church of Latter-day Saints mission, which started with a four-month stint in Mexico City. He then split his remaining time between Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso.
"I learned Spanish and embraced the Mexican culture," said Berryhill. "The people are amazing, and the food is fantastic. I've used Spanish a lot, conversing with [teammate] Sahid Valenzuela and other teammates over the years. And if I go to a Mexican restaurant, I'll speak Spanish to the staff.
"I grew up a lot and matured during my mission. It prepared me for life outside of my home. I learned to overcome problems and work things out on my own."
After his two-year church commitment, he enrolled at Salt Lake Community College. He regained his baseball swing, hitting .433 as a freshman and being named the team's Defensive Player of the Year. His team was playing in a season-ended tournament in Las Vegas when Berryhill caught the eye of Fullerton's Baum.
"I was there to scout DJ Peters, an outfielder who was playing for Western Nevada College," said Baum. "I saw this blond-haired kid make a great catch and throw out a runner at the plate. He got hits, stole bases. I was wondering, 'Who is this guy?' "
The Titans failed to land Peters, who signed a contract with the Dodgers. But Baum contacted Berryhill after the tournament and the two stayed in touch. The coach braved wind and rain in the Beehive State the next year while scouting Berryhill, who hit 340 as a sophomore.
"One game was delayed until a storm passed. Mitch was 3-for-3 with two triples and a double. He was a great find. It was a matter of getting lucky and building a relationship with him," said Baum, who signed Berryhill midway through that season.
A fun time in the Alaska summer league
Fullerton then sent Berryhill to Fairbanks to play for the Alaska Goldpanners in a collegiate summer league. "It was an awesome – a great experience. I made a lot of good friends in summer ball and enjoyed playing some games in Canada," said Berryhill, who hit .400 for the Goldpanners.
At Fullerton, Berryhill quickly became the starting center fielder. He hit .295 with eight doubles, three triples and 23 RBI. He finished with a .384 on-base-percentage, was third in the nation with 21 sacrifice bunts and was named Big West Honorable Mention.
Berryhill said the Titans' final game in 2018 helped motivate him for this season. In a dramatic showdown, visiting Washington beat Fullerton 6-5 in a 10 innings to capture the Super Regional series two games to one.
"That was one of the best games I was ever part of," said Berryhill, who scored a tying run in the ninth inning. Titan second baseman Hank LoForte hit a go-ahead homer in the 10th before Washington rallied in the bottom half of the inning. "That game fueled me to get better and it kept the fire in my system," said Berryhill.
"This has been a tough year for the team. We faced more adversity. But I see only good things for this program for years to come," he said.
Berryhill said he made a smooth transition from Smithfield, a city of 11,000 that is predominately white, to Cal State Fullerton, a campus of 40,000 students with diverse backgrounds.
"It didn't take time to adjust at all," he said. "I love meeting everyone I can. Everyone has a story, and I want to hear their stories."
A communications major with an emphasis on public relations, Berryhill said that some of his Salt Lake Community College credits did not transfer to Fullerton and he plans to eventually complete his degree. He envisions a post-baseball career in some type of sales. "I really enjoy talking with people, so that would be a road to follow."
Mitch Berryhill hit .400 while playing for the Fairbanks-based Alaska Goldpanners in the summer of 2017.
A love of the great outdoors
He likes to travel and has taken trips to Cancun, Mexico, Yellowstone National Park and many locales in the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain states. In his native Utah, Berryhill likes boating and swimming at lakes, hiking and skiing in the mountains and riding all-terrain vehicles. He said he likes spending time at the beaches of Orange County.
His father, John, is a physical therapist who operates his own clinic. His mother, Kristi, serves as office manager at the clinic as well as working in real estate. He has two brothers, Travis, 31, and Geoffrey, 20, and a sister, Brittany, 28. His brothers played high school football, while his sister was a soccer player.
Berryhill's parents occasionally see him play in person and live stream his games at home. "I helped coach him on his high school baseball team and I could see the potential," said his father. "Mitch has always had a pretty good work ethic, and he's blessed with natural talents. I figured eventually he would find his niche and excel."
"He was a good wide receiver in high school with great speed. But he could see that baseball was the thing that would take him places. It was a bit of serendipity that Coach Baum noticed him at the Las Vegas tournament."
Berryhill said he often talks with former Titans who are playing professionally. He keeps in touch with his former roommates Tommy Wilson and Andrew Quezada, who are pitching in the Mets and Rockies organizations, respectively, and Scott Hurst, a member of the Cardinals system.
He has already heard from scouts ahead of the three-day Major League Baseball draft, which begins June 3. "I've heard from some teams and I'm excited for the future. But it's very unpredictable," said Berryhill.
Pavletich, his teammate, gives Berryhill a ringing endorsement. "He is the most genuine, heartfelt person. He knows when to laugh and when to be serious.
"I think he would succeed at the next level because of the way he attacks the game on a daily basis. If he gets a shot, any team that takes him will be lucky to have him."
Berryhill hikes on the Wind Cave Trail outside Logan, Utah.