‘I’m gonna put all my time and effort into it’: Baseball’s Caleb Durbin talks wrestling, getting on Tim Van Kirk’s level and post-collegiate ball
For much of high school, much of junior Caleb Durbin’s athletic prowess came on the wrestling mat. Now the Washington University baseball team’s starting shortstop, Durbin has mostly moved on from wrestling. Instead, he has been a major contributor to the Bears’ powerful start to the season. Durbin has gotten a hit in 11 of the Bears’ first 12 games, was honored as the Division III National Hitter of the Week in early March and has not stopped since, scoring 15 runs and driving in another 13. Student Life called him to get a sense of his background and what is making the baseball team so good so far this year.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Student Life: To start off, talk to me about your high school baseball foundation. I saw you were a wrestler too. So how does that impact your current play?
Caleb Durbin: Yeah, I wrestled and played baseball in high school for all four years, and then I played football my senior year. Both my brother and my dad wrestled at Northwestern, actually, so wrestling always was a big part of my athletic career. But it’s interesting because you don’t get too many baseball-wrestler combos. I was the only one in my high school, but I think it helps a lot. Obviously, they’re two very different sports. But wrestling is such a grueling sport, so baseball’s always been more enjoyable. With wrestling, you have to cut weight during the season and stuff like that—it’s just kind of brutal. But just the fact that I’ve wrestled for eight years really helps with the physical and mental process of getting ready for baseball.
SL: So your dad wrestled at Northwestern. Is that ever something that you thought about doing in college yourself? Or was it always baseball for you?
CD: Yeah, early on it was definitely something that I played with in my mind. But as a young high schooler, I knew I had a really strong passion for baseball, and I knew that my goal was to play beyond college if I had the opportunity to. And I played with the idea of trying to do both in college, but I knew if I wanted to pursue all my goals in baseball that it should be my main focus.
SL: Have you gotten on the mat at any point since then? Or have you left that life behind you?
CD: It’s funny because when I go back during winter break, I definitely still try to get on the mat. And it’s funny how I was, you know, the captain my junior and senior year, and now I go back and my old teammates are beating me because I haven’t wrestled in a few years. I do miss it, but I’ve been able to cope with it and try to move on. But yes, I definitely still love the sport.
SL: Yeah, well, you’ve obviously kept pretty busy—let’s talk about the baseball team’s spotless record. It’s been a pretty incredible season so far, so how are you feeling at this point about your personal performance?
CD: I tried to put in the work in the offseason in preparation to where I’m ready to compete and play a big role on the field, as well as trying to be a leader off the field. So I’ve really taken more of a role this year in trying to really get everyone on the same page. The only thing that matters for me is getting the win for the team success. That’s been a step that I’ve been taking this year—trying to have that type of leadership role rather than worry too much about my individual success. As a team though, we’ve definitely put together a good start to the season.
SL: Good is one word for it. I actually thought Wash. U. would move up to the number one ranking, but you stayed at number two.
CD: I know. You’d think, because we beat two top seven teams in one week. You look at our schedule and it’s no cakewalk, but we’ve handled it and we’ll see. I think we should be out there in the one spot too, but hopefully in time it will come.
SL: Yeah. How helpful is it to have [junior infielder] Tim Van Kirk absolutely raking in front of you in the lineup?
CD: Yeah, I’m not surprised one bit. Tim is one of those grinders on our team who works really hard in the offseason. And yeah, it’s great, but it’s not surprising to me at all. I saw it coming from the type of player he is—he’s just a steady bat, steady glove everyday second baseman, top of the lineup kind of guy. Every team wants a guy like Tim Van Kirk leading their lineup. Man, I knew he was gonna be really good for us—I didn’t think he was gonna be this good.
SL: Do you feel like you can take some of the credit for his success? Because maybe they’re scared to face you after?
CD: Laughs. I don’t know. You see the type of numbers that Tim’s putting up, I feel like he’s the guy to be scared of right now. But that’s the thing with our lineup right now—you can be scared of him, you can be scared of me, but then you still have to face our four, five, six hitters all throughout our lineup who are hitting the ball really well. That’s the big difference this year: that we have a full lineup where you’re not going to have an easy out anywhere.
SL: With such a big win streak, knock on wood, I’m sure you’re trying to keep things consistent right now. Are there any specific superstitions you have?
CD: I don’t have any crazy ones—at least I don’t think they’re too crazy—but I think one of the main ones I have is if I have a good game or something, then I wear the same pair of socks that I wore that game the next day.
SL: But that’s not a long-term thing, right? Like you’re not wearing the same pair of socks that you were when you guys won your first game?
CD: It’s mostly only for back-to-back games. If there’s some time in between, I’ll wash them.
SL: I’m so glad—that’d be slightly concerning. What about walk up songs?
CD: For Wash. U. it’s tough because we don’t get walk up songs—you can have your opinion on it but we’re just not going to have walk up songs—but in the summer I’ve had the chance to pick my walk up songs and obviously in high school we had them. I’m a big Kid Cudi fan. So if I have Kid Cudi as mine, it’s going to fire me up pretty good and get me in the zone.
SL: You mentioned summer ball. Is that something that you’re gonna do this season or this summer, too?
CD: The last couple summers I played in Florida for the whole season down there, and then I’d come up and play in the Northwoods league in Wisconsin and Illinois. This summer, I have a temporary contract, which is a day-to-day contract, in the Cape Cod league on the East Coast. So I’ll be there hopefully the whole summer, but after that I have a gig up in Wisconsin to finish the summer there. So there’s a lot of baseball to be played this summer.
SL: And thinking past summer ball, you said your ultimate goal has always been to play post-college ball. Any thoughts about that?
CD: It’s nice, because not a lot of DIII guys obviously have the opportunity to play beyond college, but we have our starting pitcher Ryan Loutos—he’s got a very good shot at making it to the next level. Here at Wash. U., we have a few guys who want to make that jump and can push each other and have that same mindset. For me personally, I think I got a good shot. I’m gonna put all my time and effort into it, and that’s all I can do. Just try to make it happen.
SL: So what would your dream team to play for be?
CD: Obviously the Dodgers and Yankees have so much history, so it’d be sick to play for them. But I think playing for a hometown team would be cool, too. So I’d say the Cubs. The Chicago Cubs.
More of our recent athletes of the week: