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Brewers prospect Derby honors Vegas victims

Pitcher commemorates '58 strong' with embroidery on glove
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

PHOENIX -- This is a baseball story, not a tragedy story. Brewers pitching prospect Bubba Derby can tell both, unfortunately, and his glove is a good place to start.

It's a Rawlings made of black leather with "58 strong" embroidered in gold script along the thumb. Derby had it made to remind him of the 58 concertgoers killed last Oct. 1 by a gunman from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel. That was exactly five months ago. Derby is one of the survivors.

PHOENIX -- This is a baseball story, not a tragedy story. Brewers pitching prospect Bubba Derby can tell both, unfortunately, and his glove is a good place to start.

It's a Rawlings made of black leather with "58 strong" embroidered in gold script along the thumb. Derby had it made to remind him of the 58 concertgoers killed last Oct. 1 by a gunman from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel. That was exactly five months ago. Derby is one of the survivors.

"It is as much a tribute as I can think of for the 58 souls who were lost on the night I was there," Derby said. "It's just something for those families and those people to know they are always in my heart and I'm always thinking of them.

"It's a simple glove, and it will be with me all season. Hopefully it has some good innings in it."

It is time for the 24-year-old right-hander to turn his thoughts toward those innings, which explains why Derby has begun politely declining requests for further interviews about that night. Looking ahead, he says he will "take things one day at a time."

He says that a lot.

"I guess I used to say it a lot before, but now I say it all the time," Derby said. "That's going to be the biggest thing I live by from here on out. Don't worry about tomorrow, don't worry about yesterday. Focus on today and we'll get through it."

Tweet from @Bderby11: 58 Strong this season 🙏 pic.twitter.com/W3O7M78b3G

Derby is not quite sure what awaits him in 2018. It seems likely he will be assigned to Triple-A Colorado Springs, but as the calendar flipped to March, it was anyone's guess what role he will fill.

Derby has already done it all, from closing games at San Diego State to starting in the A's system after Oakland made him a sixth-round Draft pick in 2015 to pitching both in relief and in starts last year in his second season in the Brewers' Minor League system.

Milwaukee acquired Derby three offseasons ago in the Khris Davis trade and watched him struggle through 2016 at Class A Advanced Brevard County. In 2017, the organization switched Derby to a relief role at Double-A Biloxi and he logged a 2.88 ERA in 50 early-season innings. When the Brewers needed a starter at Triple-A Colorado Springs, Derby bumped up and went 5-0 with a 3.55 ERA in 12 starts. Not bad for his age-23 season.

"I've been a firm believer in, 'Keep your head down, take it one day at a time,'" Derby said. "I lost that mentality in 2016 at High A. Last year, being in the bullpen, it helped me refocus.

"As a reliever, you don't have a choice. You have to go in there and not mess around. You have to throw strikes and trust yourself and trust the defense behind you."

Did being traded play a part in his 2016 troubles? Derby isn't sure.

"For me, it wasn't about getting to know people. I'm not shy. It was about putting too much pressure on myself and thinking I had to in there and prove the trade," he said. "It happens."

The 2017 season was much better, and Derby sailed into the fall with confidence.

Then came Vegas.

• Brewers' Derby in crowd during Vegas shooting

The Brewers have personnel in place to help Derby process the tragedy, if and when he needs it. He has teammates, too, like fellow pitcher Jon Perrin, Derby's roommate on the road in Double-A.

"I knew from social media that he was at this concert, so when I saw the news, I immediately sent him a text saying, 'Are you OK?'" said Perrin. "I didn't get a text back for a couple of days. I was sitting there like, 'Oh no. Not him.'

"Then all the stories started coming out about him helping [fellow concertgoers], basically saving their lives. Knowing Bubba, knowing who he is, I'm not surprised. He's a good person. A very faith-based person. I think his actions in those moments reflect who he is, No. 1, but then also being an athlete, being a leader. All of those things played a role in him staying calm in a situation like that."

Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan was in touch with Derby from time to time during Derby's busy offseason. He told his story at several speaking engagements and raised awareness for the "Vegas Strong" movement.

"He's done a good job of talking when he wants to, when he needs to," Flanagan said, "and letting that process play out."

Tweet from @Bderby11: I cannot believe what I witnessed last night. My heart aches for those who lost loved ones. Stay strong Las Vegas #prayforvegas pic.twitter.com/oQIDqyn2DJ

Now, it's back to baseball. Derby was one of the prospects invited to the Brewers' Minor League minicamp, which has been running across the parking lot from the big league clubhouse at Maryvale Baseball Park.

After touching Triple-A last year, Derby is close to reaching the Majors.

"It's nice getting back to my routine, seeing a lot of my close friends and just being with the boys," Derby said. "For a few rough months after the incident, it's hard to go about your day thinking about what happened. You ask yourself some questions that you typically don't want to ask yourself.

"Getting back after it is really nice. It just kind of helps me forget about everything and get back to work."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Bubba Derby