By David Willis
LOWELL — It takes place on baseball fields every day, across America. So, what were the odds that a simple game of pickup football this spring would derail star college baseball prospect Bryce Brentz's season, with a million-dollar draft day in sight.
"We were fooling around pregame," admitted Brentz. "I think everyone's been hurt messing around. But it came at a pretty bad time."
Despite his freak ankle injury, the Red Sox chose the slugger, ranked the No. 10 amateur prospect in the draft by espn.com, as a sandwich selection in the first round of the 2010 Major League Baseball draft.
Signing just days after the draft, Brentz was the starting right fielder and cleanup hitter last night for the Lowell Spinners, who fell to the Tri-City VallyCats 5-0 on opening night at LeLacheur Park, despite allowing just four hits. Lowell had opened the season last Friday in Vermont.
"I've been waiting for this," said Brentz, who was 0 for 2 with two walks last night. "The biggest thing I've been waiting for is to get out and start my professional career."
Expectations were sky high for Brentz heading into the 2010 college season.
As a sophomore for Middle Tennessee State in 2009, Brentz delivered an eye-popping campaign. He led NCAA Division 1 with a .465 batting average, 28 home runs and a .930 slugging percentage. He added 73 RBIs and was named a Louisville Slugger and Baseball America first-team All-American.
"I knew I wasn't going to top what I did in my sophomore season," said Brentz. "Everyone has a career year, and that was mine. I just told myself not to press and look past the pressure."
Not eligible for the draft until after his junior season, Brentz returned to Middle Tennessee for his junior campaign. But, prior to a game, disaster struck.
"Baseball is a long season, and you have to do things to keep loose," he said. "We had gotten tired of running drills, and a few of us decided to play football. I was on defense, and one of the guys fell down on my leg the wrong way and I heard it crack. I just thought, 'How did this happen?'"
Brentz suffered a hairline fracture of his right ankle. He missed three weeks, and when he did return, the injury had a major impact on his approach.
"I had to alter my stance at the plate," said Brentz. "I turn my back foot in, and that's the one I hurt. With the weight bearing down on it, I had to open up my foot a little. It was strange swinging. The doctors told me after four or five weeks, the pain would go away, but for the first couple weeks it was pretty tough."
Despite the issues, Brentz was able to finish his season in impressive fashion, hitting .348 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs.
He then turned his attention to the Major League draft. Prior to the injury, he was projected to go as high as No. 7 overall to the New York Mets.
"I was hoping to go in the first round, and I just wanted to hear my named called," he said. "I just sat and watched. I played three years and I did everything I could do. But I did miss about 60 at-bats. Most people had around 200 at-bats, and I was at about 140. "
Brentz finally did hear his name called, chosen No. 36 overall by the Red Sox, the pick Boston received as compensation for losing Jason Bay as a free agent to the New York Mets. Just five days later, he signed a contract with Boston for $892,000.
With his ankle now healed, Brentz is hoping to provided a much-needed power prospect for a Red Sox organization that is known for developing pitching and speed. Despite his 61 career college home runs, he did, however, hope to avoid the title of a power hitter.
"That's what I've been labeled," he said. "But quickness is power. You have to stay calm in the box. If you tighten up and try to hit it 500 miles every time, that's when you don't hit it too far. I'm a hypocrite, because I do swing as hard as I can on those 2-0 counts.
"But when you do get hold of one, it is beautiful."
Disaster of a start
It was a nightmare of a debut for Spinners starter Randy Consuegra last night.
The righty walked the first four batters of the game, throwing three wild pitches, then beaned the fifth batter with a fastball that deflected far into the stands. He was pulled from the game after the bean ball, throwing just four strikes in 22 pitches. He was relieved by Keith Couch, who retired the next three batters. Consuegra had walked 22 in 45 1/3 innings last year for the Gulf Coast Red Sox.
The batter who was beaned, Ben Heath, remained on the ground for just over four minutes, but remained in the game.
Hometown boy returns
Former Lowell Spinners manager and Billerica legend Gary DiSarcina was in attendance to catch the ceremonial first pitch last night, thrown by Mike Hazen, the director of player development for the Red Sox.
DiSarcina managed the Spinners for the last three years, winning a team-record 125 games. He is now the minor league field coordinator for the Red Sox.
THE BRYCE BRENTZ FILE
Team: Lowell Spinners
Height/weight: 6-foot/195 pounds
Hometown: Knoxville, Tenn.
High School: Hit 11 home runs, 67 RBI and a .417 batting average as four-year letterman for South Doyle High School. All-State and All-District honors selection as a senior.
Pitching: Was originally drafted as a pitcher out of high school by the Cleveland Indians. Possesses a mid-90s fastball. Despite a contract offer he said exceeded a normal 30th round offer, chose not to sign so he could hit in college.
Multi-sport star: Only scholarship offer after junior year of high school was as a wrestler. Wrestled at 160, 170 and 189. Also a two-year starting QB in high school.
College: In three years as a starting outfielder, hit .385 with 61 homers and 191 RBIs in 157 career games. Also threw a perfect inning of relief in only appearance.
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