Easy swing makes Tigers rookie Brennan Boesch a deep threat

BY SHAWN WINDSOR
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER

He hadn’t missed by much. But that was obvious as his moon-shot slowly tailed off‘ into foulterritory down the rightfield line.
It’s never easy when you just miss a three-run homer in 3 one-run game. It’s even harder when you are a rookie, called up from me minors less than a month earlier, and every bat is a referendum on Whether someone will continuecarrying your luggage or whether you will be carrying it yourself.

Brennan Boesch thought of none of that during the sixth inning of Wednesday’s first game ofthe day-night doubleheader against the New York Yankees. And he had plenty of time to think. Because that near-miss blast broughtYankees pitching coach Dave Eiland to the mound to chat with Javier Vazquez.

You couldn’t blame the coach. On Monday night,Boesch drove in three runs and belted two hits,including a Scud-missile triple he smoked deep into the rightfield gap that turned out to be the game-winner.

So when Boesch crushed another Yankee offering just outside the foul pole, Eilaud wanted to
strategize. It didn’t matter.Boesch shook off the missed opportunity, waited for Eiland to retreat, then singled off Vazquez,scoring Magglio Ordoflez and giving the Tigers a two-run cushion. It was the kind of at-bat that Boesch thinks will show he is not just another all-or-nothing masher.

In 18 games, he’s hitting .388 with 19 RBIs and has pounded the ball so relentlessly that aYankees beat writer reeentiy wondered aloud in the Comerica Park press box: “Who is this guy?!”If this sounds improbable, it isn’t to Boesch. He has known for most of his life he would be here.

Destined for the majors
Boesch always seemed to understand his destiny.It just took him awhile to get the details on thenight it began unfolding.
Boesch and a handful of fellow Toledo Mud Henswere grabbing a late dinner at a local sports barand watching the Tigers play in Anaheim whenCarlos Guillen sufiered a pulled hamstring.And a couple of guys turned to me,” Boeschrecalled.

He played it cool.

But deep down‘? ‘Maybe,’ I thought,” he said.

Maybe… because he was an outfielder, same as Guillen. Maybe because he had mashed the ball during spring And maybe because he was tearing up Triple-A pitching, driving in 17 runs in 16 games with a .379 batting average.

The numbers were just a continuation of what he had done since the day Tigers brass worked him out in a batting practice session at Comerica Park before the 2006 draft.

He was putting balls into the rightfield seats,” remembered Detroit assistant general manager AlAvila. “He had this easy power.”
Detroit snatched him in the third round and sent him to Oneonta, the Tigers‘ short-season Class

A affiliate in New York, where he began learning the game under former Tigers third baseman Tom Brookens. The Oneonta manager recalled a raw, powerful slugger who, like a lot of young power hitters, pulled the ball into foul territory
too ofien.

He didn’t know how to hit the ball to all fields when he signed,” said Brookens, who now coaches the Tigers‘ outfielders. “But he’s come a long way. He’s one of the guys who has made as good a stride as anybody.”

Boesch had made a pretty convincing case for a shot in Detroit and knew coming out of spring training that he might get one. It’s just that the night Guillen got hurt, Boesch’s cell phone died.So he didn’t get the initial call from the Mud Hens that he was supposed to get on a plane the next day to fly to Texas to join the major league club.

Nor did he get the next 10 calls, from his trainer and manager and parents, who were starting to get a little perplexed when the Mud Hens decided to call out to California looking to reach Boesch.Of all nights, his cell battery died on this one.

After dinner he returned to his apartment,plugged in his phone and got ready for bed. Just before turning out the lights, he decided to check it and noticed all the missed calls.

It was 2 am.
He called the trainer. Then Mud Hens manager Larry Panrish, “who sleepily told me the news.”
Then he called his parents.

Everyone knew before I did,” he said,sheepishly.

Focused on baseball
It would be unfair to read too much into Boesch‘s first at-ba1 – or first game – in the majors.But for the record, he scorched a double and finished 2-for-4 against the Texas Rangers. He also got caught afier a baserunnjng error.

Skipper called me into his office later and told me: ‘That can’t happen,’ ” Boesch said. “He told
me: ‘Be me. And stay aggressive.’

If Boesch showed a little nervousness that night in Arlington, Texas, he also began revealing a near preternatural sense of the moment. The first time Boesch played before the University of California-Berkeley scout who recruited him, he hit three home runs.

When the scout returned the second time? Brennan hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the game,” said his father, Phil Boesch. “And he hit a home run in his very first college at-bat.”

His father credits his son’s ability to focus and, perhaps more important, to remain comfortable with decisions no matter what temptations might await. Consider that Boesch grew up in Santa Monica, Calif, yet didn’t hit the beach until he returned home during the off-season once he had reached the minor leagues.

I was so into baseball,” he said.

That is why he taped posters of Ted Wiliiams on his wall and why he told his seventh-grade
teacher that he couldn‘t fully dedicate himself to mathematics because he was going to play in the big leagues someday and his swing needed work,and why he spent his afiernoons and nights in the batting cage in his backyard.

My dad and I built it with nets and rope and lights,” he said. “We rigged it up pretty good.”

Boesch studied baseball. When his father took him to Dodgers games, he tried to break down the stroke of the players. He noticed that the best swings are often the most compact swings. Not an easy style to emulate when you are 6-feet-4, a size that encourages a more looping swing.

I knew I had a naturally good swing,” he said.

It just needed honing. So he pursued that relentlessly.

In fairness, he took the same approach to everything. Despite his declaration to that seventh-grade teacher, Boesch always showed interest in the World beyond baseball. He leamed to speak Spanish – thanks to his mother,Vivian. He played piano for 10 years. He wrote creatively.

And he eschewed minor league ball out of high school because he Wanted to go to college. Stanford and Cal were his choices.

“Cal was great to hear so many perspectives,”Boesch said.

But college wasn’t just interesting, it was liberating. He discovered that his education took pressure off his baseball. He knew if he didn’t make it he would have something to fall back on,whether it was foreign languages or writing.

He took that freedom and ran with it, to Oneouta, to West Michigan, to Erie, to theDominican Republic for winter ball, to Toledo, and finally to Detroit, absorbing the game at every stop and showing what he’d soaked in at the plate.

I was meant to play baseball,” Boesch said. ”I haven‘t one time thought about the other things I might have been doing instead because I knew I would be here.”

So where does he go now?

When Guillen returns, the veteran will play second base and Boesch will remain in the outfield.

The Tigers were obviously not going to send one of the hottest sluggers in baseball back to the minors, not when All-Star masher Mark Teixeira tosses out an observation like this: “Maybe once a year comes a hitter that really stands out to me, a rookie. hitter. This guy is impressive.”

Added Brookens: “From what I’ve seen, his hitting approach will allow him to stay up here. Is he a .300 hitter? I don’t know. But I do believe he is going to hit in the high .200s and do some damage with home runs and RBIs.”

Boesch, for the moment, is taking it all in slowly, enjoying the major league spreads, the major league media crowds around his locker, the big leaguers themselves, like Johnny Damon, who recently gave him a white terry cloth robe with the Olde English D embroidered on the front and his name stitched across the back. Damon had provided the luxurious robes for the team earlier in the season.

When Boesch got his, he said, “I felt like I was part of the team.”

Amazing what can happen in a month.

Contact SHA WN WINDSOR: 31 3 ~222-64 87 or
swt’.;zdssr’@‘reepress.com.
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