Shane Bieber is not a Belieber. Let that be known.
The UC Santa Barbara righthander is not related to the multi-millionaire singer who shares his last name, and outside of a couple of newer songs, he said he’s not a fan of the music. Even still, Bieber can’t seem to avoid that other Bieber. Opposing teams taunt him with it all the time, like Long Beach State did on April 1, playing Justin Bieber’s 2010 hit “Baby” when Shane took the Blair Field mound in the first inning.
“I kind of have to deal with it and learn to love it,” Bieber said, laughing.
At home, though, “No Church in the Wild” by Jay Z and Kanye West is Bieber’s warmup song of choice. It gets him and his teammates amped up.
“I think the starter’s role, if you’re coming out to walkup songs, it’s kind of for the whole team to get in that zone,” he said.
But this particular Bieber sets the tone in more ways than just music. He takes tone-setting seriously. A junior, Bieber has pitched out of UCSB’s weekend rotation for three years, but this is his first season in the team’s ace role. Blocked by the likes of 2015 draftees Dillon Tate and Justin Jacome, Bieber has eagerly anticipated his chance to start on Fridays—to be the man who leads the rotation.
“He got to throw on Friday once last year,” said UCSB head coach Andrew Checketts. “I think it was early in the year, third weekend, he threw on Friday and he did something spectacular, and when I told him he was moving back to Sunday, he was pissed.
“He was mad. I think he’s envisioned himself as being the Friday guy for a long time.”
Bieber has certainly pitched like a Friday guy over the course of his Gauchos career, going 18-9, 2.73 in 231 collegiate innings. Checketts said the Gauchos love playing behind him. For one, he’s a strike thrower, walking just 29 batters—to 177 strikeouts—in those 231 innings. But he also works at a lightning-quick pace, taking as little time as possible between pitches, which keeps the defense locked in and can make batters uncomfortable.
“I know my parents enjoy it, too,” Bieber quipped. “They want to watch me pitch and get out of here after our team wins.”
Bieber, who went 7-1, 2.74 in his first nine starts this season, has been a large reason why the Gauchos have played their way to the top of the Big West standings and progressed up the college Top 25. Though not a power pitcher, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound righthander pitches off of his fastball, throwing it almost exclusively in the early innings before mixing in his slider and changeup the second and third time through the batting order. No pitch necessarily grades as plus. His command is his best tool.
In a 7-4 complete-game win at College of Charleston on April 8, Bieber sat 89-90 mph and located his fastball to both corners, often elevating it above the zone with two strikes. He got stronger as the game went on, touching 92 mph in the sixth inning while starting to sprinkle in more 78-81 mph breaking balls and a firm 83-85 mph changeup.
He needed just 108 pitches—80 strikes—to go the distance. A week later, Bieber threw a second straight complete game, shutting out Cal State Northridge on just 102 pitches—72 strikes.
“He’s like that every week,” Checketts said. “Every weekend, that’s what he looks like.”
Clearly, Bieber has thrived in his new Friday role—he’s been waiting for it.
“I like facing teams when they’re at their best,” he said. “And a lot of people argue that Friday games are a little more offensive, so it’s really cool to come out there and combat that and try to shut these teams down.”
From Laguna Hills, Calif., Bieber has that “little flip-flop, beach dude” persona, Checketts said. He’s even-keeled and steady, but he’s also fiercely determined to prove himself. He originally came to UC Santa Barbara as a walk-on.
“He’s really kind of a humble modest kid, but he’s a super quiet and super competitive kid,” Checketts said. “He’s really done a lot. He walked on at our program, and he went from being a walk-on to pitching on Friday night, so I guess that says a lot about his determination.
“He’s a quiet warrior.”
A quiet warrior— in spite of the Bieber music that follows him.