When they played together on the Grandview baseball team, the future looked pretty bright for Kevin Gausman and Greg Bird.
Their success, however, has become absolutely blinding.
With the look and demeanor of future Major League Baseball players while they were still in high school, Gausman and Bird not only have reached the next level, but have gained strong footing at the professional level. Barring injury, the outstanding former battery for the Wolves both will have places in the starting lineups of their respective teams — the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees — on the upcoming opening day of the Major League Baseball season.
Former Colorado prep players have certainly made an impact in MLB in years past, but Gausman and Bird have been breaking new ground for the state over the past few years with their rapid rises in the big leagues.
“I always thought Colorado baseball was kind of behind, so it’s kind of cool how it’s catching up,” Bird told the Sentinel in January when he returned to Grandview to serve as an honorary coach for the school’s popular Unified basketball team.
“The more people I talk to, kids are going to places to play and there are more kids from Colorado who are at the higher levels of baseball, so it’s great for the state,” he added. “I get to play with Headley (Chase, a Fountain-Fort Carson High School graduate), so he’s been great for me. It’s really about trying to help out Colorado as a whole. I feel like it has had a little bit of a reputation to not be as good, but it’s nice to see it’s being recognized now.”
That recognition for the state grows even greater with each accomplishment of the Grandview duo.
On Monday, Baltimore manager Buck Showalter tabbed the 26-year-old Gausman as the the team’s Opening Day starter for its April 3 contest against the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards.
Just a few short years ago, Gausman was throwing gas for coach Dean Adams’ Grandview baseball team, as he went 5-3 with a 4.41 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings as a senior in 2010. He was drafted in the sixth round of the MLB draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but opted to pitch at Louisiana State, where he had a short, but stellar career.
Two years later, Baltimore made him the No. 4 overall selection in the 2012 draft and he’s gone on to pitch in 95 games — 72 starts — and has a record of 23-31 with a 3.97 ERA and 414 strikeouts in 453 innings. With ace Chris Tillman injured at the start of the season, Showalter opted for Gausman, who was 9-12 with a 3.61 ERA and 174 strikeouts a year ago.
In spring training, Gausman has yielded just two earned runs in 10 innings with 13 strikeouts against two walks.
Bird made a triumphant debut in the 2015 season with the Yankees, as he played in 46 games after a late-season call-up and posted a .261 average with 11 home runs and 31 RBI.
The sweet-swinging left-handed hitter — a former catcher at Grandview who was converted to first base in the New York organization, which drafted and signed him out of high school — missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, but has regained his form after significant offseason work.
Bird has lit up spring training pitching for a .447 batting average with seven home runs and 13 RBI in 20 games. On the day the 24-year-old slugger got official word from Yankees manager Joe Girardi that he’d be the starting first baseman, he slugged two two home runs and drove in five runs in a spring training win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
“He’s been really good,” Girardi told the New York Daily News about Bird last week. “Maybe better than what I expected knowing that he sat out a year and you worry about guy’s timing. It hasn’t seemed to affect him.”
The former Grandview stars will see each other plenty as the Orioles and Yankees play several times this season, starting with a series April 7-9 in Baltimore.
Regis Jesuit graduate Ty Blach could also be on an MLB roster to start the season.
The left-handed pitcher is bidding to become the fifth starter or a long reliever for the San Francisco Giants.
Blach — who pitched in college at Creighton — has led the Giants in spring training with 20 1/3 innings pitched and has a 1-1 record with 4.43 ERA. He pitched in four games for San Francisco last season, including a scoreless three-inning stint against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in his MLB debut, and finished 1-0 with a 1.06 ERA.