Feb. 2, 2010

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Brentz’s Big Bat, Arm Boost Blue Raiders

By Barrett Neale



Pitchers generally aren’t known for their hitting, but Bryce Brentz is an exception.


Brentz, a junior pitcher and outfielder at Middle Tennessee State University, led the NCAA in four categories last season: batting average (.465), home runs (28), slugging percentage (.930) and total bases (214). He set single-season school records in all four categories, as well as hits (107) and runs (79).


“People would call me up and ask, ‘Who’s keeping your stats? Have you moved your fences in?’” said Blue Raiders coach Steve Peterson, whose squad went 44-18, won the Sun Belt regular season and conference titles and went 1-2 at the Louisville Regional. “I would watch people try not to pitch to him, try not to throw him strikes. He would sit there and rifle a ball off the wall that was pitched down and away.”


Brentz said he started each season with the same goals: bat .300, hit five or six home runs and get 40 RBI. He attained higher goals, such as becoming the 2008 Freshman of the Year and the 2009 Player of the Year in the Sun Belt Conference, but added that he didn’t think about those as much.


“If you put too much pressure on yourself, you don’t let your ability just take over,” Brentz said. “That’s why I set these lower goals. I call them stupid goals. Once I get them, I just relax and have fun the rest of the season.”


Senior Kenneth Roberts, the Blue Raiders’ ace who went 11-1 with a 3.04 ERA in 2008, called Brentz was one of the hardest workers in the clubhouse. He said Brentz was like two players in one and dominated whether he was pitching or hitting. Brentz went 5-3 with a 4.57 ERA as a weekend starter (two complete games, 63 Ks and 31 BBs in 88.2 IP).


“He’s just so confident,” Roberts said. “It just rubs off on everybody.”


Despite his confident exterior, Brentz said he was always surprised if he hit the first pitch of an at-bat.


“Sometimes I’ll be in the batter’s box and one of my legs will just be shaking,” he said. “After I swing the bat one time it’s a relief. … It’s not like I’m scared nervous, but it’s like ‘Man, we’re about to play’ nervous.”


Brentz, a self-described late-bloomer, did not talk to any college baseball coaches until his senior year of high school. Middle Tennessee, which he said was a perfect fit, was the first school to approach him.


“He caught our eye,” Peterson said. “My assistant coach Jim McGuire was instrumental in bringing him back to us and saying: ‘Coach, you need to see this guy. I think he can hit, and I know he can pitch.’”


Peterson said Brentz, from Knoxville, Tenn., was a quiet competitor who had exceeded everyone’s expectations. When describing the past two years, Brentz cited personal and team victories: his grand slam that gave his team the win it needed to qualify for the 2008 conference tournament; pitching six scoreless innings to give Peterson his 800th win; and being in a dog pile with his teammates when they won the conference tournament last year.


“I’ve been one win away from winning a championship in high school, never had a ring, never been a part of a championship team,” Brentz said. “When we did that, that was the biggest thrill of my life.”


Brentz was named a consensus All-American and played for Team USA last summer, which Peterson said has increased his visibility to Major League scouts. Despite these accolades, Brentz remains humble.


“I’m glad to be out there with those players,” he said. “I played with a lot of those All-Americans at Team USA. It’s kind of baffling to go, ‘Man, I read about you in Baseball America and now I’m talking to you.’”


Peterson said he would provide Brentz with new challenges this season. He plans to move Brentz from left field to center and said he might ask him to serve as the team’s closer.


“I’m going to give him all kinds of opportunities to be a bright star offensively and to be a big cog in our pitching staff,” Peterson said. “If this is his last year of amateur baseball, I want him to go out with a bang.”


Peterson said professional scouts told him Brentz was good enough to be picked during the first three rounds of the 2010 MLB draft. Although the Cleveland Indians drafted Brentz as a pitcher after high school, he said he planned to enter the draft as an outfielder.


“I’ve had two great years, but baseball is always a game of, ‘What have you done for me lately?’” Brentz said. “We’ll see what happens. I think if I hit the way I’m capable of hitting, everything will take care of itself.”


(photos courtesy of MTSU Media Relations Office)