Visalia has an opening for Brodin

mwochnick@theolympian.comSeptember 3, 2013 

Leftover concession stand food, likely hot dogs or hamburgers, for dinner.

The apartment was barely affordable because the player was earning $150 a week while trying to make it big in baseball.

This was life for Joash Brodin, a 2005 North Thurston High School graduate, five years ago as a first-year player in the independent Frontier League.

Baseball life – and his wallet – is a lot better now.

Last month, the first baseman/outfielder got the break he’d been hoping for. Brodin signed for the first time with a major league organization, the Arizona Diamondbacks, after spending a season-and-a-half with the Long Island (N.Y.) Ducks of the Atlantic League, possibly the top independent baseball league in the country.

The Diamondbacks signed Brodin on Aug. 14 when he and the Ducks were playing in Sugar Land, Texas, against the Skeeters.

The Diamondbacks assigned

him to the Single-A Advanced Visalia (Calif.) Rawhide.

“I’m not sure when it’s going to really hit me,” Brodin said. “Probably not until the offseason.”

The offseason won’t come for at least another three games since the Rawhide, of the California League, made the playoffs.

Playing in the minors with an affiliated organization was Brodin’s goal right out of college in 2009, but failing to be drafted meant a long and bumpy journey. Five years, thousands of miles traveled, three independent all-star games, and 462 games in independent leagues got him to the minors.

***

Independent leagues are not affiliated with major league organizations, but many teams are comprised of former major leaguers, players who were part of an organization’s farm system, or undrafted college players.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Brodin, a three-sport athlete at North Thurston (baseball, basketball, tennis), went undrafted out of college in 2009, playing his final two seasons at College of Charleston (S.C.) after two years at Green River Community College under Matt Acker, now Timberline High’s baseball coach. Brodin was left with few options to continue playing baseball.

The Frontier League, a lower-level independent league, was his best bet. So Brodin and college teammate Clay McCord, went to Ypsilanti, Mich., to sign with the Midwest Sliders in the summer of 2009. Brodin said the living situation was so terrible, he and McCord sublet an apartment from a University of Michigan student. Nearly half of his monthly salary was for rent. The refrigerator often had few items in it, luxuries such as cable television weren’t an option. Playing for the London Rippers in Ontario, Canada, two years later, Brodin shared a four-bedroom apartment with eight teammates, yet had his own bedroom.

“I had seniority on that team,” he said.

Some of his teammates with the Rippers didn’t have a living arrangement with an apartment or an in-town host family. Those players slept on furniture or air mattresses in the clubhouse.

Brodin bounced around to four teams (Midwest Sliders, Oakland County Cruisers in Michigan, River City Rascals in Missouri and the Rippers) over four years and when the Rippers folded during the 2012 season, the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League saw his statistics (league-leading .370 batting average, 11 home runs, 54 RBI in 59 games) and signed Brodin.

Ducks manager Kevin Baez said the club was unsure how his Frontier statistics would translate in a more competitive league.

“We took a chance,” Baez said. “He kept proving himself.”

This year, his first full season with the Ducks, Brodin made a modest salary ($1,900 a month) and lived rent-free with two teammates in the basement of the home of bench coach and Ducks part-owner Bud Harrelson. Harrelson was manager of the New York Mets from 1990-91 and was the shortstop on the “Amazin’ Mets” who won the 1969 World Series.

As a leadoff hitter, Brodin hit .307 with 11 home runs and 48 RBI over 106 games on a team that featured 13 former major leaguers, including a pair who signed with affiliated organizations this summer: former Seattle Mariners slugger Ben Broussard, now with the Omaha Storm Chasers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals; and pitcher Dontrelle Willis, the 2003 National League rookie of the year who pitched for the Salt Lake Bees, Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, against the Tacoma Rainiers at Cheney Stadium on Thursday. Brodin said he tried to soak up as much knowledge as he could from players such as Broussard and Willis.

“I try to learn as much as I can from them about baseball,” he said. “They’ve seen the best of the best, why not take that opportunity to learn what I can?”

Brodin is the fourth player from the Ducks to sign with a major league organization, yet was the only player on the Ducks’ 25-man roster who had no prior experience in affiliated baseball.

To Acker, who brought Brodin in as a volunteer assistant coach last spring for the Blazers, that showed determination.

“If you’re playing independent ball as long as Joash,” Acker said, “you absolutely love baseball.”

***

After a 10-2 loss against the Skeeters on Aug. 14, Brodin got the call from the Diamondbacks. His parents, Doug and Stephanie, made the trip to Texas to watch their youngest son play and shared the moment with him.

“We’re his biggest fans,” Doug Brodin said.

Joash Brodin said it was a blessing when the Rippers folded and he signed with the Ducks. He might not be in the minors if he were still playing Frontier League baseball.

“I would’ve hung it up and started coaching somewhere,” Joash Brodin said. “In (the Atlantic League), it’s an extremely high level of baseball and a great opportunity for me to get seen.”

Since reaching Visalia, Brodin, 26, is adjusting to affiliated baseball. In eight games, he’s hitting .172 (5-for-29) with a pair of RBI.

The Rawhide’s regular-season ended Monday, and Visalia begins a three-game playoff series with the Modesto Nuts (affiliate of the Colorado Rockies) on Wednesday, the club’s first postseason appearance since 2007.

“It’s been fun,” Brodin said. “The team has been very welcoming and they’re good guys. I went from being one of the youngest guys in the Atlantic League to one of the oldest guys on this team.”

Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 mwochnick@theolympian.com theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick

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