Two Bears make it to the big leagues

Durbin is draft pick for Atlanta Braves, Loutos is an undrafted free agent for St. Louis Cardinals

While at the Division III World Series, Caleb Durbin recorded eight RBIs; five runs, including two home runs; 10 hits; and four stolen bases. (Photo: Larry Radloff/

Please forgive Caleb Durbin and Ryan Loutos if they haven’t gotten back to you.

The two standouts from the Washington University in St. Louis baseball team have been inundated with congratulatory calls and texts since July 13 when both signed deals with Major League Baseball teams — Durbin as a 14th-round draft pick to the Atlanta Braves and Loutos as an undrafted free agent to the St. Louis Cardinals. 

“Within 10 minutes, I got 100 messages on my phone,” said Durbin, who hit .386 as the Bears shortstop. “It’s just been an amazing and surreal experience.” 

“It’s so cool — and so humbling,” said pitcher Loutos, whose 11-1 record led the Bears to their first NCAA Division III World Series this June. “You realize how much you value those people who have supported you all of the way.” 

Just a few days ago, the two Bears were playing summer ball together for the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders in the Northwoods League. Neither expected to be picked during the first 10 rounds of Major League Baseball’s 20-round draft. But both players woke up Tuesday — the draft’s third and final day — with high hopes and nervous jitters. It had been days since either player had heard anything from their respective teams.

Bears baseball
Senior Ryan Loutos pitches for the Bears in their March 20 game against DePauw at Irv Utz Stadium. The Bears won both games of the double-header, 12-1 and 10-0. (Photo: Danny Reise/Washington University)

“The 11th round went by, then the 12th, then the 13th,” recalled Durbin, who was watching the draft in the home of the family hosting him for the summer. “But then the Braves called and said they wanted to take me in the 14th or 15th round. That’s when it got real.”

Durbin rushed to tell his host mother, who pulled out her phone to record the big moment. 

“Typically, when someone gets drafted, there’s 20 people around them and everyone is going nuts and you’re trying to understand what just happened,” said Durbin, who is from Lake Forest, Illinois. “Well, for me, it was just me and my host mom while my host dad was mowing the lawn. It was crazy. I was just glad I didn’t have to wait 20 rounds not to hear my name.”

Like Loutos. He has hanging out with fellow Bear and Dock Spiders teammate Austin Sachen when he learned Durbin had been drafted. He was excited for his friend, but grew evermore discouraged for his own prospects as the minutes ticked by.  

“When I got to the 18th round, I had accepted it wasn’t going to happen,” Loutos said. “Then I got a call saying the Cardinals wanted to sign me after the draft. I had been getting calls from teammates who were feeling bad for me, but I responded, ‘Well, let’s wait and see.’” 

And then, once the draft closed, Loutos got his offer.

“Within 30 minutes, two Bears were headed to the big leagues,” said Loutos of Barrington, Illinois.

“And what made it so special was that we were able to have this experience together,” Durbin said. “There are so many little things — the bus rides, the workouts — I won’t forget those things and Ryan won’t, either.”

Alum and former teammate Jack Besser tweeted video of a Durbin home run moments after Durbin signed to the Braves.

The two friends now travel to Florida for their physicals and to sign their contracts. Next, they will play Rookie ball or, perhaps, for a Low-A minor league team. After the offseason, the players return to Florida for spring training. Loutos graduated in May with a degree in computer science from McKelvey School of Engineering. Durbin completed his junior year studying finance at Olin Business School and is committed to finishing his degree.

It’s rare for Division III players to make it to the majors. Durbin was one of only six Division III players to be selected in the 2021 draft and the first Bear to be drafted since 1997, when Russ Chambliss was picked up by the New York Yankees. As high school students, both players hoped to play Division I baseball for an elite university, but neither got offers.

“In the end, WashU was a great fit,” Loutos said. “I didn’t want to sacrifice academics, and I knew a lot of really good athletes from my high school who played here. WashU was a place where I could win and grow. The coaches, the players — the experience has been great.”

Coach Pat Bloom is thrilled for his players, whom he considers among the very best he’s ever coached. 

“Caleb came up really big in our biggest moments and played shortstop at a Gold Glove level. And Ryan is a great student of the game, someone who, in my mind, was the best pitcher in D3 baseball this year,” Bloom said. “These players didn’t compromise athletically or academically. Our vision for them was clear from the start: We are going to compete for championships and, if you do the work necessary in your baseball development, good things will come to you. And they have.” 

Still, Durbin’s success comes with a downside.

“I got a lot of calls of congratulations followed by the question, ‘So who’s going to be your shortstop,’” Bloom said with a laugh. “That’s the fun of college athletics — there’s always new faces and challenges. You always do your best to shape the students in your program, and then the new batch comes in and you do it again. Fortunately, we’ve got a great class coming.”

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