-NWITimes - Tom Keegan Times Correspondent
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“By far the worst mistake is (believing) winning is the most important thing. That’s not the case,” Mike Brosseau said.
What were you doing on the night of Oct. 9, 2020?
The players from the Portage Little League's Waste Management 2003 and 2004 Tabor Tournament champs won’t likely have any trouble answering the question for years to come.
They were watching former teammate Michael Brosseau, now of the Tampa Bay Rays, earn a prominent place in Major League Baseball postseason history during a 10-pitch at-bat against Yankees flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman. Zach Simmons, who works at a steel mill in Burns Harbor, was watching on his phone. Brandon Vickrey, sports information director at Valparaiso University, watched while visiting his parents in Portage. Jeremy Sinkus, a landscape architect in Illinois, was in front of his television at home in Portage.
They all grew more optimistic as the at-bat progressed and when Brosseau fouled the ninth pitch, a 101 miles per hour fastball, straight back, they knew he had Chapman timed. The 10th pitch was another fastball. Crack. Eighth-inning home run. It stood up as the game-winner and not only settled a score with the head-hunting Chapman, but sent the Rays to the World Series to face the favored Dodgers. (Chapman had thrown at Brosseau’s head in a September game and Brosseau responded by hitting two home runs the next night.)
Mike Brosseau, coach of Tabor Tournament champs and many more of son Michael’s youth teams, and wife, Bonnie, were at home in Portage for their only child’s signature at-bat. Mike was upstairs watching on a WiFi-connected TV, Bonnie downstairs on a direct connection.
“She was four or five seconds ahead of me,” Mike said during a break Wednesday from work at a steel-processing plant in East Chicago. “She was going crazy. I still didn’t know for sure what happened, but I knew it was something good.” Mike said that Bonnie enjoys talking to her mother during Rays games, and he prefers to hear the announcers. “So I said, ‘OK, let’s do it this way: I’ll take one of the dogs upstairs and you keep one of the dogs with you.’ So, that’s how we do it,” Mike said.
That’s how they watched Tuesday night’s Game 1 of the World Series. Despite posting an OPS of 1.121 vs. left-handed pitchers during the regular season, Brosseau didn’t get the start against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, but did pinch-hit against Victor Gonzaez with runners on second and third and nobody out in the seventh. Brosseau drove in a run with a single to right and stayed in the game at third base.
Brosseau’s parents decided against flying to Texas for the World Series games in Arlington.
“They’re still in the bubble,” Mike said. “He could get us tickets, but we can’t be with him. We decided it was going to be more frustrating being able to see him from 100 feet away and not be able to go down to give him a hug, take a picture with him and go to dinner with him. So, we just kind of figured since we couldn’t fully enjoy the opportunity we would probably just celebrate when he gets Brosseau’s postseason heroics have taken his former teammates on brisk rides down memory lane. Vickrey posted a 2003 photo of the Waste Management team on Twitter after Brosseau’s game-winner against Chapman. Sinkus responded that he never had seen the photo, quickly copied it and texted to his father, Glenn, one of the team’s coaches, with the message: “How crazy is it that Michael just eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs?”
Never labeled a can’t-miss prospect, Brosseau played four years at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan after playing at Andrean High, where he teamed with Oakland A’s left-hander Sean Manaea.
Even after leading the Horizon League in on-base percentage (.456) and ranking second in home runs (10) and slugging percentage (.571), Brosseau was not drafted in 2016. The Rays signed him for $1,000 to fill out a minor-league roster. Scouts paid too much attention to his stocky 5-foot-9 frame and not enough to his bat speed, hand-eye coordination and quick hands.
“Honestly, not until I saw him play for Oakland at Valparaiso, that was the first time I saw him play where you could kind of tell he was turning into something,” said Simmons, who has remained close friends since Little League. “He’s always been good, don’t get me wrong, and he’s always been a winner. ... I probably saw 20 kids better than Michael in Little League, but you can’t tell anything in Little League.”
Sinkus, a year older than Brosseau, expressed similar sentiments and remembered him as one of the younger players on the team playing second base because he didn’t yet have the arm strength to make the throw from shortstop. Vickrey added that, “It wasn’t an eye-popping natural ability that I saw from him at a young age. I think it was the work ethic at each level that carried him to the next level.” It also didn’t hurt, Vickrey emphasized, that he had a great, supportive influence in his father.
“I had never played baseball, and because of my birthday I missed the cutoff by a few days and wasn’t able to play in the lower league with all of my friends,” Vickrey said. “Michael’s dad’s the biggest reason I fell in love with baseball. A lot of youth coaches don’t have the positive, encouraging attitude Mike had. If it had been a bad experience, that would have changed my whole path in life, and I might not be working in sports.” Vickrey said he was so raw that when the coach told him to play second base, he had to ask: “Where does the second baseman play?”
Clearly, Brosseau’s father hooked more than just his son on baseball, so it could be worth it for anyone coaching youth sports to follow his blueprint. “By far the worst mistake is (believing) winning is the most important thing. That’s not the case,” Mike Brosseau said. “There are many, many coaches out there, all they want to do is win and they hide their maybe less-athletic players. You can’t do that.”