After checking the weather forecast for his start on the mound against Omaha Bryan last Saturday, Elkhorn’s Drew Christo liked what he saw.
Around 80 degrees at game time. A breeze that would be at the 6-foot-4, 230-pound right-hander’s back blowing right-to-left — that would help his slider, he thought.
“That was my first start I think this whole year where it felt like the temps were above 45, so I was pretty stoked about getting the start,” Christo said.
The slider worked Saturday. The four-seam fastball was the star of the game, though. Christo threw a no-hitter — the first in his prep career — in Elkhorn’s 11-1 five-inning win. He struck out 13 batters with two walks and didn’t allow a run.
Christo isn’t the only talented arm in Elkhorn. A few days later on Tuesday, his teammate, Chase Smith, threw a perfect game in a 5-0 win over Elkhorn North.
Christo is one of the state’s top multi-sport athletes, starring on the football field, basketball court and now baseball diamond this spring. In 34 2/3 innings of work he has a 0.40 earned-run average to go along with 73 strikeouts against 15 walks. He’s dangerous with a bat, too, as he owns a .365 average with a team-high five home runs and 35 runs batted in.
Baseball and pitching is where Christo’s future is — Major League Baseball scouts agree — and he’s been committed to play for Nebraska and head coach Will Bolt since he was a junior. Heavy decisions will need to be made this summer, though. The MLB Draft is July 11, and many baseball publications predict Christo to be selected in early rounds.
The son of former Nebraska football player, Monte, Drew grew up a Husker fan and has been keeping an eye on their baseball team. He’s been to Lincoln to watch them this season when he can.
“The whole state I think has been impressed with what they’re doing,” Christo said. “It really speaks to what the coaching staff has done down there and what the team’s done, really buying into the culture and getting stuff done to get wins.”
Christo texts with Nebraska’s coaching staff after series wins. Vice versa after Christo’s starts at Elkhorn.
“Me and Coach (Jeff) Christy will talk after I throw. We’ll talk about what went well and what didn’t go well, what was feeling good and about pitches and stuff,” Christo said. “I’ll call him up every now and then and we’ll talk. It’s definitely been a good relationship.”
When it comes to the possibility of playing professional baseball out of high school — and earning the kind of money that may come with it — that’s a decision Christo says he won’t make by himself. It’s a family affair.
“At the end of the day, it’s a decision I’m going to make for myself, but it involves them as well,” he said of his family. “Over the next couple of weeks and months we’ll have conversations about what the best option for me would be. The great thing is, whatever happens come July 11, there’s really no wrong choice. That’s something I keep reminding myself of through this whole process.”
Christo said education is important to him. He’s always tried to focus on it as much as athletics, and it shows. Christo ranks No. 1 in his class and he scored a 35 on his ACT.
Whenever college does come around, he wants to be active in the sports medicine field. He likes the idea of being a sports orthopedic surgeon, helping kids get back to playing sports if they endure a setback.
“Sports have done so much for me in my life and helped build who I am and my character. So that’s something that I want to do — combine my passions after my playing days are over, whenever that may be,” Christo said.
The slider makes an appearance
Christo wanted to work on two specific parts to his game last summer as he prepared for his senior year. One was to get a slider and have it be an effective pitch. His slider, he said, was the weak spot in his pitching arsenal.
“I wanted to find a grip that felt comfortable and one where I could throw it hard, play off my fastball and get the type of movement I want on it,” Christo said of the slider.
Christo’s fastball is the pitch he’s most confident in. He consistently throws it in the low 90s with good command, which, at the high school level, has led to big success. As a junior he hit 95 mph and has touched 94 a couple times this spring.
Don’t forget about his changeup, though. It isn’t far off from Christo’s best pitch, he says. It’s about 5-6 miles-per-hour slower than the slider, so he likes to throw it early in counts to left-handed hitters. Christo bats lefty, so if he’s not looking to swing at a changeup early, others likely won’t either.
“Some days, it’s probably in front of the fastball,” Christo said of the changeup being his top pitch. “It’s a pitch I haven’t had to throw as much this year, but when it’s feeling good it’s probably one of my best pitches and I love throwing it. It’s been a weapon all throughout high school for me.”
This offseason Christo went to work to develop a gameplan against right-handed hitters. He wanted to get comfortable throwing a fastball and changeup to set up his new slider.
“I just wanted to slow the bat down with the curveball, then throw the slider right after it,” he said. “If they’re expecting a fastball since I just went slow, it’ll be a slider and now they’re out in front to get a swing and miss.”
The cat-and-mouse game between a pitcher and batter is something Christo loves about the game of baseball.
“Your stuff can be really good, but at the end of the day, if you can throw what he’s not thinking is coming, you’re going to be successful,” he said.
The second goal Christo had last summer wasn’t physical, but mental. He wanted to be the alpha on the mound as a senior. That takes a certain mindset to accomplish.
“I really wanted to come in and establish the game. I wanted to be the guy who just goes after batters and dominates,” he said. “So that’s something I’ve really tried to do with my attitude this year — get up there and control the game as a pitcher. I feel like at times I’ve done really well with that, and other times it’s kind of slipped my mind so I’ve had to come back and revisit that attitude. But it’s helped me for sure.”
Being strong mentally helps not only on the mound, but off it, too. That was especially true during this past basketball season when Christo was contacted by MLB teams that were interested in getting to know the kid from Nebraska with a big arm.
“It seemed like almost every team sent me an email and wanted to hop on a Zoom call,” Christo said. “I would hop on that Zoom call and there’s three or four people on the other end. Most of the time it’s 30 minutes to an hour of full-on psychological interviews. It was something I was not expecting and didn’t even know was a part of the process.”
The interviews with MLB teams — a lot of which happened following Elkhorn basketball games — were intense. Christo said he was asked an array of questions that were meant to help teams get to know exactly who he is. For example: What was your biggest regret in your last four years of high school? What’s your greatest fear that you think you’ve had, or will face? What’s the biggest thing you’ve overcame, and what did it do for you?
There was even an instance where a scout who attended an Elkhorn baseball game this season happened to be sitting by one of Christo’s high school teachers. Once that scout found out Christo was in the teacher’s class, a notebook was whipped out and the scout started jotting down notes about what the teacher said about Christo as a student.
“There were more deeper-level questions that, when you’re going into those things, you might not be expecting,” Christo said with a laugh. “But they have a system down where they can get what they want.”
Getting the routine down
Christo’s approach against Omaha Bryan was to attack with fastballs. He mixed in a few off-speed pitches the second time through the lineup. There were a couple hiccups in one inning — his command wasn’t there, and it resulted in two walks — but he followed it up with a 1-2-3 inning.
“The defense had some good plays behind me,” Christo said. “Throwing to my catcher Grant (Gutschow), it makes it pretty easy when he’s back there. He’s a big target and makes it easy for me to throw, and I can trust all my stuff because he’s back there ready to receive it. Everything was clicking, and that four-seam fastball was definitely working the best.”
Christo has a routine he follows the night before a start. He’ll drink a 3D energy drink and likes to start moving around an hour and 15 minutes before the game starts.
One part of his pregame warmup that he feels has been very beneficial is a 5- to 10-minute hip workout, where he does three or four different exorcises that engage that area of his body.
“That’s really made my lower body feel stronger and more engaged when I go out and pitch,” Christo said. “When it comes to game day, I’ve got a pretty strict routine I like to follow and it gets me in the right headspace.”
Along with about an hour’s worth of stretching exorcises before game days, he credits a 20-minute meditation as a big reason he’s having success. He picked up the idea after watching YouTube videos of other pitchers who said it’s helped them.
“For me, I noticed that when I did it the night before, the sleep was the biggest thing for me,” Christo said. “I was able to sleep better and I woke up the next morning feeling so much more refreshed.”
The meditation isn’t easy, though. It takes practice to be able to do it effectively. It’s more than just closing your eyes and waiting 20 minutes.
“You have to work at it. It’s a focused effort — you’re focusing on your breath when you breathe in and out,” he said. “Any type of thought that you get that distracts you, you try to first acknowledge the thought and then dismiss it so you can return back to your breathing.
“It’s a task that requires you to do a little bit of thinking, but I’ve loved it so I’ve continued to do it the night before.”
What’s next for Christo? Trying to lead a battle-test Elkhorn team on a state tournament run. Hopefully there’ll be a few more 80-degree days for it.