For Kelly Gruber, Westlake’s title-winning run at the 1980 state baseball tournament was mostly a blur.
“My head was still spinning,” said Gruber, who just 24 hours before the Chaparrals’ state semifinal was the 10th overall pick of the major-league draft, selected by the Cleveland Indians. “For a young buck my age, it wasn’t easy keeping my mind straight.”
A high school All-American as a shortstop, Gruber said he was so preoccupied during the 1980 tournament, he hardly remembers hoisting the team championship trophy after Westlake defeated DeSoto 11-10 for the Class 3A title.
Four years later, Gruber’s younger brother David led Westlake to the Class 4A state title, and he can find a reminder of that championship every time he glances at the UIL record books.
Nearly three decades later, David Gruber’s batting average of .857 over two tournament games at Disch-Falk Field remains the Class 4A record, matched just once in the past 29 years.
David, a third baseman, had six hits in seven plate appearances in 1984, when Westlake whipped DeSoto 9-3 in the title game.
“After I went 3 for 3 in the semis (against Everman), my coach (Howard Bushong) said I’d be in line for a record if I kept it going,” David recalled. “My third hit the next day was a ground-rule double that would have been a home run if we were playing anywhere else but Disch-Falk Field.”
Looking back, David Gruber Sr. said his elder son “had God-given natural tools to be a great athlete … (and) David had just as much drive as Kelly, maybe more.”
Bushong, who coached Westlake from 1979-90, said the two championship teams were vastly different.
Led by Kelly Gruber and future major-league pitcher Calvin Schiraldi, the 1980 team realized that finishing with anything less than a state title would have been a failure, Bushong said. Major-league scouts flocked to Westlake — mainly to watch the 6-foot-5-inch Schiraldi — but Gruber blossomed into a power hitter with a “cannon for an arm,” Bushong said.
“We knew we’d be pretty salty,” Schiraldi said.
Gruber and Schiraldi took different paths to the majors. Gruber, who was recruited to play football and baseball for the University of Texas, skipped college after the Indians offered him an $80,000 signing bonus, “a ton of money at the time,” Bushong said.
Gruber, 51, never played for the Indians and was shipped to the Toronto Blue Jays in 1984. One highlight during his nine-year major league career was a home run he hit against Atlanta in the 1992 World Series.
Schiraldi’s journey to the bigs was slowed when he was diagnosed with mononucleosis before his senior season at Westlake. He lost 30 pounds and his fastball slowed from 90 to 85 mph, two factors that dropped him to the 17th round of the draft.
“I’m not sure I was mature enough (to turn pro) at the time,” said Schiraldi, who opted to go to Texas. “I learned a lot from coach Gus (Longhorns coach Cliff Gustafson). Playing in the (1983) College World Series was the highlight of my career.”
Schiraldi joined Longhorn teammate Roger Clemens as a first-round pick in the 1983 draft. Schiraldi, 50, played eight years for five major league clubs — the Mets, Red Sox, Cubs, Padres and Rangers.
David Gruber’s baseball career “maxed out” in 1988 while he was playing at Southwest Texas State. As he warmed up before a game against Sam Houston State, a liner struck him in the face, breaking his nose. He also broke his ankle as he tried to twist away from the line drive.
Now a salesman for a web hosting company, David, 46, applauded his older brother’s major league success, and the two often traveled together during Kelly’s playing days.
“It was a blast to stay with Kelly in the summers, be part of that environment,” David said.
Class 4A baseball state tournament records for hitting
1. David Gruber;Westlake;1984;6-7;(.857)
(tie) James Garner;CC Calallen;1998;6-7;(.857)
3. Leland Dove;Corsicana;1958;5-6;(.833)
(tie) Matt Fisher;Brenham;1986;5-6;(.833)
5. Scotty Self;Cleburne;1979;4-5;(.800)
(tie) Richard Mendoza;Arlington Hts.;1996;4-5;(.800)