TRAVERSE CITY — Riley Bertram and Joe Pace are fresh off one extremely long playoff run, and hop right onto another team already primed for one.
The pair of University of Michigan baseball players officially joined the Traverse City Pit Spitters on Wednesday,
The Wolverines’ season just ended June 26 with the team’s 72nd game of the season, an 8-2 loss to Vanderbilt in the best-of-three College World Series championship round. Now, they’re joining a Pit Spitters team that just locked up a playoff spot and some extra games of their own Monday by clinching the Northwoods League’s Great Lakes East Division title.
Wednesday’s game at Pit Spitters Park opens the season’s second half.
“It’s everything you dreamed of,” Pace said of the World Series experience. “To do it with that team is really special. Coach (Erik) Bakich has been about the right things for a long time and the rubber is hitting the road.”
Pace said he hopes this year’s run sets an expectation for Michigan baseball to be in the World Series on a regular basis, instead of being labeled a Cinderella teams, as was the case much of this postseason.
“Some of the best experiences were the games,” Bertram said. “We were winning some games, so that made it fun. The atmosphere was cool — lots of kids everywhere.”
Bertram said he signed more autographs in Omaha than all season at Michigan. The Wolverines visited a children’s hospital during the College World Series, and Bakich hung a towel autographed by those kids in the dugout next to the lineup card during every game.
“I know a lot of them followed Michigan through the World Series after that,” Bertram said.
Bertram and Pace come to Traverse City at different points in their college careers.
Bertram, who hails from Zionsville, Indiana, was a hero in Michigan’s regional wins over Creighton and Cincinnati, a freshman filling in at shortstop because of injuries.
Pace, who played at the same Los Angeles high school as New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton, converted from outfield to pitcher just before the season’s start. He fared well in his limited appearances, striking out 14 in 9.1 innings with a 3.86 ERA. That included three-strikeout innings against both Michigan State and Ohio State.
Pit Spitters manager Josh Rebandt said they’ll both be solid additions to the team that already has a 23-13 record entering Wednesday’s home contest.
“Both of them bring a championship culture,” Rebandt said. “Bertram brings a glove and bat. Pace will be a nice additional to the bullpen.”
Bertram hit .385 in 18 games with seven RBIs and four walks for U-M.
Pace, 22, will go into his senior season next year looking to carve out a larger role in Michigan’s pitching staff, and hopes to use this summer as a springboard to accomplish that.
“The most important thing for me is getting innings, pounding the strike zone and figuring out my identity as a pitcher.”
Pace didn’t pitch in high school or college prior to January, but Wolverine coaches noticed his strong arm in the outfield and decided to give him a shot on the mount. He hits 90 mph or more with his fastball regularly, and also features a breaking ball.
Both committed to play in Traverse City in early May, well before the Wolverines’ 13-game postseason run (not counting the Big Ten tournament).
“They seem like they have a good culture in their first year,” Bertram said. “I hear the same things I heard about Michigan.”