More Than a Game: Pleasure and Pain

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Posted Thu, Dec 5, 2013

[Photo by Melanie J. Rice]

“I entered high school in 1994 and once again, I had to tryout for the Denver East Angels baseball team.” [Photo by Melanie J. Rice]

DENVER — I  had no idea how my life would change after my parents took me to my first baseball tryout in 1992. How quickly and often the game, players, coaches and opportunities change was even more of an adjustment.

Most of my friends had played baseball for at least four or five years. Baseball never interested me when I was smaller. I wanted to be more physical and felt as if baseball did not involve “contact.” Playing baseball was something that I could not imagine. I was afraid of not being a good player. The kids in my South East Denver neighborhood had been playing baseball at an early age. I remember feeling that my window had closed on this sport and I would focus on football and basketball. Football and basketball were my first love in sports.

I was 12-years-old scared and hesitant. I looked out the car window as we drove to the tryout. I owned a hand-me-down glove and used cleats. I felt inadequate. I had never played this sport and I wondered why I should start now?

I played catch and did batting practice with my friends, but I had no intention of playing organized baseball. I remember the day that my parents told me that they were taking me to a try out the upcoming weekend.

[Photo by Melanie J. Rice]

It took a few seasons until I noticed an improvement in my play. My arm was getting stronger. I was hitting the ball harder and running faster. [Photo by Melanie J. Rice]

I asked my mom, “What tryout? I don’t have any tryout next weekend.” My mother, Willie Brockington told me that she had spoken with a friend of mine, Kurt Pydyszewski and his parents. Mrs. Pydyszewski (Ellen) had mentioned that South East Denver Baseball Little League tryouts were coming up.

My mom told Ellen that it would be good for Kurt and myself to experience this opportunity. My mom has always believed that any physical activity, especially with friends, is a positive thing. After my parents had a later conversation, my mom and late father, Billy Brockington, decided that they would take me to try out for baseball. This was one of the best decisions that my parents made for my life. After the tryout, I would no longer be afraid to try something new.

I made the team. My tryout was successful and I landed a spot with the Denver Orioles. I was positioned in center field. I was told by coaches that this decision was made because of my running speed and decent arm strength. I was somewhat confused because I barely ran during the try out. I understood the arm strength comment because I played quarterback and took pride in delivering any type of ball hard and fast. I was also able to catch almost anything that was coming my way.

It took a few seasons until I noticed an improvement in my play. My arm was getting stronger. I was hitting the ball harder and running faster. Coaches and teammates started to take notice of my development. I also began to gain more confidence and started to perform as a top player. I started to believe in myself and took on the responsibility as a team captain.

[Photo by Melanie J. Rice]

“Justin was my mentor. He kept me motovated.” [Photo by Melanie J. Rice]

I entered high school in 1994 and once again, I had to tryout for the Denver East Angels baseball team. I was no longer nervous and made the varsity baseball team as a freshman. Not many freshmen receive the opportunity to play varsity baseball at East. I wanted to be the best player at our high school. I did not start but had the privilege of learning under Justin Jackson, a senior coming off of the state championship team. Behind Jackson, I would learn how to compete at an elite level. I had big cleats to fill and I understood that my level of play would have to advance if I wanted to play for East High School.

Sophomore year was my stage. Jackson had graduated and I was the starting center fielder. I played well for a very good team. Once again players and coaches took notice. That year I received my first letter of recognition from Duke University, but because of recruiting rules you cannot communicate with a collegiate program until 17 years of age and I was 16. I could not respond to them until the following year. Soon after Duke contacted me, Texas A&M (Agricultural & Mechanical), Florida A&M (Agricultural & Mechanical), New Mexico State and University of Kansas followed suit. I was receiving attention that I could not have believed at a young age.

Scouts were attending our games and I loved every minute of it! We had a really good team and because of this, I received a lot of exposure. Our catcher, and one of my best friends, David Kirschner was leading the state in batting average .710. I was 10th on this list at .575. A lot of people wanted to watch us play. This year was the beginning of my future in baseball.

[Photo by Melanie J. Rice]

“I had no idea how my life would change after my parents took me to my first baseball tryout in 1992.” [Photo by Melanie J. Rice]

Our team fell short of the state championship. We lost to Overland High School 3-2 in the 1996 quarter finals in 5A baseball, but I played well. This was the first time that I was showcased in front of the state. Our team lost, but I was just getting started. Our coach, Tom “Sev” Severston, left East to coach at Regis Jesuit. David and I were asked to attend Regis but we declined. This would also be a decision that changed my life. We would get a new coach the next year. I wanted to play for coach “Sev,” but our new coach had a connection that I wanted access to.

Junior year brought coach Torey Humphrey to East High. Humphrey had been a pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles minor league affiliations and had connections around the country with regard to baseball. He was an instant influence on our team and was very player friendly. We missed “Sev,” but we quickly believed in what Humphrey was trying to teach us. Unfortunately, we would only have one season with him as our coach.

We won the Denver Prep League City Championship and earned a pass to play in the second round of the state championship. We had a week to prepare for Green Mountain High School. This week of preparation would become the demise of my junior year season.

[Photo by Melanie J. Rice]

“I only Know how to play the game one way – hard.” [Photo by Melanie J. Rice]

Our team ran base-running drills at least one time per week. We decided to run these drills on the first day of practice. I was running to third base and noticed Egon Feldman was standing on the bag. I continued to run and attempted to slide. As I slid, my ankle rolled over Feldman’s left foot and third base. I tore two ligaments in my right ankle and I had never been in this much pain in my life. We were about to play a team that we could beat but I was unsure if I would be able to help my team. I was sent to a rehab facility immediately and I did not receive any positive news when I arrived.

I was told that I could not play for at least two months. I went to rehab every day of the week but I knew that I would not be able to compete. Our team lost the following week to Green Mountain 2-0. I was upset about the loss, my injury, and that coach Humphrey was in high demand. He would leave our team to coach Thomas Jefferson High the following year.

Howard Karsh was brought in from Denver South to coach our team. Karsh was also a scout for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. This was my last access of a coach with Major League ties in high school.

The chemistry of our team seemed to diminish shortly after Karsh arrived. There were different rules Karsh implemented such as players not being allowed to grow facial hair, and having to wear game pants and a jersey at practice as opposed to sweats and a T-shirt. I was not familiar with these rules and neither were my teammates. Our team had developed through a different type of discipline and I was not ready for the changes that were being made.

[Photo by Melanie J. Rice]

“I wonder how things would be if I would have left East?” [Photo by Melanie J. Rice]

Karsh was not player friendly and our team responded accordingly. We were not playing as well and we were becoming defiant. I remember talking back, not shaving, and almost daring Karsh to bench me. I felt as if I had all authority and that a new coach would not tell our team how to conduct our business. Most of us had played together for at least four years and we were in no need of a different way to be successful.

We played well enough to earn a place in the state playoffs but most of us did not agree with Karsh. We would play Arvada in the first round and that was in fact the last baseball game I played for Denver East High School. Losing 2-0 was the most emotionally draining experience I had at East. Even tearing my ligaments the previous season could not compare to how I felt when I realized that I would never play high school baseball again.

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Keve Brockington

About Keve Brockington

Keve Brockington is a Denver-area journalist.

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One Response to “More Than a Game: Pleasure and Pain”

  1. Tim Adams Says:

    Keve,

    I read your article with great interest. My son had a similar experience with baseball at East High. He was also very talented and devoted to the game. We should get together and compare motes. I have a lot of information that may interest you. My cell number is 303 507 9789.

    Tea

    Reply

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