The 2009 season for Middle State Tennessee outfielder Bryce Brentz was the stuff legends are made of.
They were video game numbers really. It didn't matter that it was in a mid-major conference like the Sun Belt. People sat up and took notice. That's what happens when you hit .465/.541/.930 with 28 homers and 73 RBIs. Somewhat amazingly, Brentz didn't quite realize how special a season he was having until after the fact, with one small exception.
"There was one time, I got Player of the Week and had to do an interview for our school TV," Brentz recalled. "They named the stats and stuff and said something like, 'In the last three weeks, he hit over .700.' I said, 'Wow, I didn't know that.' It was eye-opening. You try and make adjustments, make good swings and not miss a fastball or hanging curve, and it took off from there. It's all over with now."
Brentz has proven he's not a one-year wonder. After his outstanding sophomore campaign, he was invited to join Team USA. Playing alongside players from "bigger" conferences, Brentz was hardly in awe, hitting .366 with a .563 slugging percentage in 71 at-bats. It was a summer that filled him with even more confidence.
"It was a great experience. I made some really good friends," said Brentz, who still keeps in close touch with Miami catcher Yasmani Grandal, Texas-Arlington outfielder Michael Choice and his former roommate, Vanderbilt sophomore pitcher Sonny Gray. "There were guys from the SEC, the ACC, out West, we're talking great players. To be selected was very flattering. But baseball is baseball. I'm in a mid-major conference, but a 90-mph fastball in our conference is the same as in the SEC."
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Brentz has continued to turn around pitches of all sorts with regularity. After a slightly slow start to the 2010 season, Brentz was up to a .382 average with seven homers, 15 RBIs and a .750 SLG through 16 games. That might sound like it pales in comparison to his ridiculous 2009 season, but at this point last year, he was at about the same rate, if not lower, across the board.
The numbers Brentz has put up do beg the question: How is it he ended up at Middle Tennessee State instead of one of those big schools in the SEC or elsewhere? He played in summer tournaments, played in the showcases and was a 30th-round Draft pick of the Indians in 2007. But as a three-sport athlete, he hadn't fully focused on baseball and wasn't quite ready for primetime. The big programs didn't come calling, and it's turned out that MTSU has been a perfect fit for him.
"I played football, I wrestled. I wouldn't pick up a baseball until tryout time," Brentz said. "Some of us were late bloomers. I've realized a few things and gotten good guidance here. I don't know how I hit back then, knowing what I know now. I was just an athlete out there. I wasn't a baseball player.
"Maybe I could've been someplace else, but coming here was the best thing that's ever happened to me. If I could do it all over again, I'd still come here regardless."
One thing different so far this year compared to his last two is that he's yet to get on the mound. That's right, the guy who had one of the best offensive collegiate seasons in recent memory also can throw 93 mph off the mound.
He hasn't been as successful as a hurler, with a 4.57 ERA last year. But that's not the reason he's not pitched yet this year. Brentz is the type to go all out in whatever he does, and he may have thrown a little too much coming out of the break, giving him a little arm trouble.
But he's also a team player. He knows not to overdo it -- he doesn't want to do anything that will keep him from throwing effectively in the outfield -- and he also knows that his team has struggled a bit late in games. Brentz loves the idea of coming in with the game on the line, and he's been slowly working his way back to the point where he hopes he can perhaps become the team's closer.
"I like having the ball in my hands for that last batter," said Brentz, who relieved for Team USA and closed in high school. "I have to be careful about it, smart with my arm like last year. The closer role might be the toughest [role] in baseball, to come in with runners on. It takes a lot. I'm looking forward to it. It should be interesting."
His eagerness to help his team should not be misinterpreted. This isn't a two-way player who doesn't want to give up on one facet of his game or one who fancies himself as a pitcher. He knows that his future lies in his ability with the bat.
"Pitching is not what I'm going to be doing at the next level," Brentz said. "It's something I can do, and I can help my team out and maybe help us win a few more games. But it's not going to be something I dearly miss."
The next level is not something that comes up all that often for Brentz. Even when he talks to his Team USA pals in this year's Draft class, like Choice and Grandal, it's not a big topic of conversation. Brentz sincerely doesn't concern himself with when he'll hear his name called on Draft Day. He will, he'll admit, occasionally dream about what will happen when that eventually does come to pass.
"The only time we ever talked about the Draft, we joked, 'What are you going to buy with the money?' Brentz said. "I had a good conversation with Michael Choice about what we're going to buy.
"I'm going to buy me a truck, then put the rest in the bank so life after baseball is comfortable."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.