In his first off seasons from major league baseball Bieber called Santa Barbara home.
In a phone interview in mid-November Bieber explained that he had just bought a house in Arizona near the Indians spring training facilities. Leaving Santa Barbara was bittersweet but it is part of his progression to year-round intensive training to take his pitching to the next level.
As for UCSB’s impact on him, he responded, “There’s too much to answer. I only spent three years there but it was an extremely special three years. I learned a lot about being a good human being. I owe that place a lot, UCSB, the campus, Isla Vista, Santa Barbara.”
He admits he was a “late bloomer” in high school pitching. He credits Checketts and the other coaches at UCSB for having faith in his abilities “and that maybe that velocity would come.” He added, “He had a lot to do with my development as a pitcher.”
In a nationally televised appearance after receiving the Cy Young award Bieber joined his family and his significant other, Kara Kavajacz (also a Gaucho who met Bieber in Isla Vista in his first pro offseason.)
Bieber credits his family for putting him where he is today. Because he did not get a scholarship his first year, his parents had to scramble, including refinancing their house. As for Kavajacz, he calls her his rock through all his fame, and his falls. “She has the brains and the degree,” he says with a chuckle.
After his first year in the pros Bieber did come back to UCSB to take classes. Now his off season is filled with workouts, weights and “arm care,” as he puts it.
He remains, according to those who are close to him, ever humble and downright easygoing. It is a baseball norm that even spectacular players in their first major league years earn the minimum salary: around $560,000. That makes Bieber among the lowest paid players on the Indians roster, while Carlos Carrasco, one of the Indians starting pitchers, made $12 million and had a 3-4 season.
Baseball observers say Bieber, who is several years away from being eligible for arbitration and even further from free agency, could probably earn a long term contract worth over $200 million if he were on the free agent market this year. At minimum, some predict the Indians will try to avoid arbitration and give him a big contract before next season, something in the $15 million range.
Bieber is not paying much attention. “It doesn’t really matter,” he explained. “At the end of the day my job is to go out and put numbers up. I’m going to enjoy this while it lasts.”
It is Checketts who seems to have the best view of this phenomenal trajectory for such a young man.