Doin' duh Region proud: Brosseau's blast resonating loudly back home
When Mike and Bonnie Brosseau watch their son Michael and the Tampa Bay Rays, they usually do so in different rooms of their Portage home.
"We do our separate thing," Mike said. "Bonnie watches it on one TV downstairs and I watch it upstairs. She likes to call people, be on the phone. I need to get away from that stuff."
Their downstairs TV has a direct connection and the upstairs set is on a Wi-Fi hook-up, so when something happens in a game, Bonnie always knows before Mike.
"I heard her go crazy, so I thought, OK, he got a base hit or a double, whatever," Mike said. "I knew he'd done something good, but I didn't know what."
A few seconds later, Mike was yelling 'Get Out!' to an 100.2 miles per hour Aroldis Chapman fastball that Michael ripped to left center field. The ball didn't need any coaxing, flying into the Petco Park seats an estimated 375 feet from its starting point for a home run that broke a 1-1 tie. Three outs later, the Rays had won the decisive fifth game 2-1 and were on their way to the American League Championship Series.
"Obviously, there were a couple little tears coming down both of our faces," Mike said. "You've got a whole lot of thoughts in that situation."
The story of the undrafted free agent signed by the Rays in June 2016 out of Oakland University, the only Division I offer that the Andrean graduate had, was known in northwest Indiana and south Florida, but in a matter of hours, if not minutes, the rest of the country knew about the kid who grew up playing for his dad with, like most 10-year olds, a big league dream that he simply wouldn't let go unfulfilled.
"The day he wasn't drafted, there was a 24-, 48-hour period where it was, what's going on now?" Mike said. "But (the Rays) called pretty quick, so there was no time to say, hey, I'm going on with my life. It just took a few days to get rid of that taste in his mouth. It was a huge task to undertake. I told the reporter from the Tampa Bay Tribune we had faith in him the whole time. Did we know he was going to
make it to the major leagues this quick? No. Did we have confidence in him? Yes, we did. When he signed, he had a five-year plan. It was his goal to make it to the majors within that time and he executed it."
He blistered pitching at every level, starting with the Gulf Coast League Rays. Promoted to the Class A Bowling Green Hot Rods for the 2017 season, Brosseau led the Midwest League in average (.318) and on-base percentage (.393), earning a call-up to the Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League in Class A-Advanced. He started with the Double A Montgomery Biscuits of the Southern League the Double A affiliate in the spring of 2018 and then the AAA Durham Bulls in 2019. Brosseau was leading the International League in RBIs with 57 when the Rays brought him to the bigs on June 22, 2019. He debuted the next day, singling in his first at-bat.
"He's always done what he's needed to do to be successful, starting at Andrean, his sophomore year, winning a starting spot, as a four-year starter in college, at every level in the minors," Mike said. "He just worked harder."
After crushing all pitching in the minors, Brosseau developed as a platoon player with the Rays, crushing left-handed pitching. He hit .273 with six home runs in 50 games in 2019 and became the first player to enter a Wild Card game off the bench and play first, second and third base. Ironically, he faced one-time Andrean teammate Sean Manaea of the Oakland A's in that game. He went 0-for-2, though the Rays won.
A planned trip to Florida last September was cancelled by a hurricane, but they made it up to Minnesota last June, after Michael's promotion, and met Rays manager Kevin Cash.
"He's a great guy," Mike said. "We had a really nice conversation with him in the restaurant. It was unbelievable. He knows the game."
This season, Brosseau hit .302 with five long balls in 36 games this season as Tampa won the American League East.
"Baseball is such a stats game, it's unbelievable," Mike said. "In the minors, he got more playing time, but there was a distinct difference between right and left, and that still followed him. I wouldn't say he can't hit righties, it's just not as close as it is with lefties."
That was never more evident than with the rocket off Chapman.
"The stats said it was the fastest pitch (100.2 mph) put in play in the majors this season," Mike said. "I found that a little astonishing with so many guys who throw 100 now."
In case anyone missed the back story of Brosseau and Chapman, the Yankees fireballer nearly hit him in the head in a game back on Sept. 1. Chapman denied the pitch was intentional, but drew a three-game suspension.
"I'm pretty sure I didn't say as many (bad words) as my wife," Mike said.
The next day, Brosseau went yard twice, home runs which stood as the most acclaimed shots of his young career until last Friday, when he became the first player to hit a go-ahead home run in a winner-take-all game against the Yankees since Bill Mazeroski's iconic round tripper in 1960.
"He wouldn't say it was revenge, but there were definitely sweeter tastes in both of our mouths," Mike said.
Brosseau snuck in a quick couple minutes doing a Facebook call with his folks from the locker room late last Friday.
"We've talked very little," said Mike, who recently represented his son at Andrean baseball's hall of fame induction. "His accessibility has been a little low lately."
Mike spent the next few days fielding a barrage of texts and calls filled with congratulations, well-wishes and memories.
"Obviously, my phone blew up," he said. "I replied to most everybody. I made a few phone calls, guys in Little League, old coaches, players from past teams. That was emotional. Those are things that get you choked up, remembering."
It took the COVID-19 pandemic to keep the Brosseaus from seeing their son play in person this season, but they have the MLB Extra Innings package, so they were able to watch them all.
"I'm not that kind of guy, so it's not something I get too overwhelmed about, but it's been humbling," Mike said. "It was not expected."
Mike Brosseau has custom-made shoes featuring logos of the four teams his son Michael has played for -- the Bowling Green Hot rods, the Montgomery Biscuits, the Durham Bulls and the Tampa Bay Rays. His wife Bonnie, right, sports a Rays t-shirt, one of the many articles of Rays clothing that the couple has. (Photos courtesy of Mike Brosseau)
Don't Mess with the Region Guy
'Mikey' Brosseau hit one home run in his high school career at Andrean.
"Leading off against Chesterton his senior year," 59ers coach Dave Pishkur said.
That Brosseau, of all players, would send the Rays to the ALCS in such a fashion seems fitting, given the improbability of his rapid ascent from anonymity to baseball hero.
"During high school, there were guys with better numbers," Pishkur said. "That probably had something to do with Mike not being as physically developed in high school. He was very solid, fundamentally sound. He always knew the game and competed really well. He was tough, a leader, the consummate team guy. He just wasn't the biggest, strongest kid."
While he's not morphed into a power hitter, Brosseau's has taken his natural abilities with a bat to another level with an increase in size and strength that came over his time since he graduated from Andrean in 2012.
"He's solid, 5-10, 5-11, 205, 210, but he's not the physical specimen so many guys are nowadays," Pishkur said. "You think about how difficult it is to do what he did. Oakland was his only (D-I) offer, and it's not a mecca of spring baseball. I was hoping he'd get drafted, then he signs for $1,000. He said, coach, I would have paid them $1,000. He had some good years. He put the time in. He produced. That's a credit to him."
As word has it, the Rays saw something special in Brosseau that went his baseball talent.
"I don't know who said it, but Tampa Bay told him if for any reason he didn't make it, they'd like to keep him on the coaching staff," Pishkur said. "That's high praise for a guy that's 23, 24. They liked his leadership, his understanding of the game. It appears on the outside looking inside, he could be a baseball lifer, a guy who when he's done playing could have the opportunity to still be involved in the game. Who knows? If he hadn't signed for $1,000, his career could've done." Dave Pishkur
Pishkur joked about Brosseau having pitched three innings for the Rays, something he never did for Andrean.
"It must be a heck of a lot easier than I thought," he said.
Last month, when Brosseau hit the two home runs the day after Chapman nearly hit him in the head, Pishkur texted him, 'You don't mess with the Region guy,' and heard from his former standout. He texted him again last Sunday.
"I haven't heard back, but I understand," Pishkur said. "He's got some higher priorities. He's never not texted me back."
Brosseau supplied an autographed bat and ball for a prize at the baseball team's recent golf outing and the items fetched $250, courtesy of Tyler Ochi, one of his high school teammates. Of course, that came before Brosseau gained national acclaim.
"How much would that be worth now?" Pishkur said.
Pishkur has coached a galaxy of star talent in a legendary career and boasts two major leaguers in Brosseau and the A's Sean Manaea. Zac Ryan is Triple-A with the Angels and Nick Podkul is in the Blue Jays system. There were a number of players who were more physically talented than Brosseau, but he's the top 59er of all time in one category.
"He would be No. 1, post college," Pishkur said.
Little League Memories
After Brosseau's home run last Friday, Brandon Vickrey flipped around the various channels, ESPN, TBS, MLB Network, watching him do interview after interview.
"It's mind blowing, how he became an overnight sensation," Vickrey said.
Almost immediately, the Portage graduate and Assistant Director of Athletics/Media Relations at Valparaiso University, searched for and found a photo of the 2003 Portage Little League team on which he and Brosseau were teammates,
"The first thing that came to mind was it's so coincidental, how I became a huge baseball fan and got into sports, and now he's a Major League player," Vickrey said. "I signed up with my friends expecting to be on a team with them, but because of my birthday, they moved me up to Minors, when everybody else was in Denims. I was in second grade, playing with third and fourth graders. There were a lot of good players. I almost didn't want to play at that point. If I'd have had a different coach, someone who wasn't so friendly, nice and easy to get along with, such a positive influence as Mike was, it could have altered the course of my whole life. Not all coaches in youth sports are that way. I came to love baseball and I've carried it with me to this day."
Vickrey's the first to admit his passion is better served in writing about sports than playing them.
"I remember in practice, Michael told me where second base is," he said. "I learned everything from him. I could've been quickly turned off if it has been a bad experience. He was pretty quiet, reserved, did what his dad told him to do. I remember him playing all over the place, and that's still the case today. He was a catcher, shortstop, pitcher, which you'd obviously expect
from the best player. He was very good, but he didn't stand out, blow everybody away as far and away the best player in the league. That development came later for him."
The two attended different schools, Brosseau going to Catholic schools and Vickrey public schools, so they didn't connect again until college, when Brosseau's Oakland teams played Valparaiso in 2016.
"It was my last year as a student," Vickrey said. "I broadcasted the series, I talked with Michael and had a chance to catch up with Mike. The next year, it was my first year as an SID, Michael had graduated, but his dad still came to the series. He stressed the importance of him finishing his degree, but he was excited for his chance at a personal dream, and the rest is history."
The pandemic cancelled the collegiate fall season, giving Vickrey the rare chance to watch lives games without working them.
"It's been fun, seeing a lot of baseball, especially the Rays recently," he said. "To see (the home run) live, it was such a cool moment, knowing the back story. I'm so happy for him and his dad. You think of guys coming through Portage like Tony Cheky who may have had more talent, but it was Michael's work ethic that kept rising to the top. The dream easily could have ended if he didn't perform at every level, advancing to keep his spot. He could have ended up in an independent league."
Given the concerns about how empty stadiums and massive loss of revenue could alter the structure of baseball in the minor leagues, stories like Brosseau's could well become even more unlikely.
"They're talking about potential changes to the Major League Baseball draft, cutting the minor league system," Vickrey said. "Michael played short season rookie ball, the Gulf Coast League. They're talking about having fewer teams, so there are going to be fewer guys in the system. They're not going to sign undrafted free agents, so they're never going to have those opportunities. It's important for the game to see these stories, how awesome it is for minor league baseball to give opportunities to guys and create employment for people. It's not good for the sport to eliminate it."
Mike Brosseau of the Rays (third from left, no hat) was a member of a Portage Little League team that won the District 1 Harry Tabor Tournament in 2003. One of his teammates was Brandon Vickrey (front row, with glasses), the current Assistant Director of Athletics/Media Relations at Valparaiso University. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Vickrey)