PAWTUCKET --- After hitting bullets last September to help spark the Pawtucket Red Sox’s magical run to the Governors’ Cup championship, Bryce Brentz nearly had a bullet end his 2013 season long before it began.
What started out as a routine cleaning of a handgun three months ago in his Knoxville, Tenn. home nearly resulted in tragedy for the power-hitting right fielder, who was tabbed as the No. 8 ranked prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization by Baseball America.
During the cleaning, Brentz accidentally fired a bullet into his left leg, and while there’s never any good news associated with a shooting, there was some in the fact that the bullet didn’t do any significant damage to his leg. As a matter of fact, not only did he yank out the bullet by himself, but his leg also didn’t require any stitches.
“(The bullet) didn’t go all the way through my leg,” Brentz recalled during the PawSox’s Media Day on Tuesday afternoon at McCoy Stadium. “It stopped right on the outside, so I pulled it out and just kept patching it up.”
The bad news? Not only did he have to deal with the embarrassment that came out of the accident, but the Red Sox pulled back an invitation they gave Brentz to attend his first big league camp, despite the 24-year-old slugger taking part in their honored Rookie Program (a week before the shooting) with 10 of the organization’s top prospects.
“It just was one of those freak accidents,” offered Brentz. “It wasn’t as bad as it sounded, and I put it behind me. I got lucky, and in this game, it’s better to be lucky than good. It’s one of those things you deal with and move on from, and I’m glad to be here to get ready to play.”
And ready to play he is. Brentz will be in right field tomorrow when the PawSox launch their title defense in Pennsylvania against rival Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“I’ve been in Florida for two months, and for the last two weeks, all I had been thinking about was Opening Day,” added Brentz. “It’s fun playing games down in spring training, but they’re not real games. You want to play games that count, and now that the season’s starting, it’s awesome.”
Ever since the Red Sox took the former Middle Tennessee State University standout as a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds (36th overall) of the 2010 MLB Draft, Brentz has put up awesome numbers.
In his first full season of pro ball in 2011, he was named the organization’s Minor League Offensive Co-Player of the Year after batting .306 with 140 hits, 25 doubles, 30 homers, 94 runs batted in, and 91 runs scored in just 115 games between Single-A Greenville and High-A Salem.
In 2012 with Double-A Portland, Brentz picked up where he left off and was named the Sea Dogs’ MVP after batting .296 with 17 home runs and leading the team in hits (135), doubles (30), and RBIs (76).
Those numbers earned him a step up the organization’s ladder to the PawSox on Aug. 30, but in his final five regular-season games, he struggled mightily, going 2-for-17.
“Some of the older guys came up to me and said, ‘Just calm it down. It’s the same game,’ ” recalled Brentz. “They could see that I was pressing, trying to show that the call-up was warranted.”
Brentz took his older teammates’ advice, and once the I.L. playoffs rolled around, he was a much different player. He batted .333 with five RBIs in seven games, with a half dozen of his eight hits resulting in extra bases and two of them leaving the yard.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Brentz. “It was my first time being in the playoffs, it was a little different atmosphere, and I guess I kind of got locked in there for the whole championship run. It was a good time, and to share it with a good group of guys like we had was awesome.”
After the I.L. playoffs came a stint in the highly-touted Arizona Fall League, where he hit .297 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 17 games and was named as a designated hitter to the league’s Top Prospects Team.
Then came the holidays, his week in the Rookie Program, and his accident.
“I didn’t miss any time,” said Brentz. “I got to camp on Feb. 1 and told (the organization) that as soon as I got down there, I’d be ready. Sure enough, within about two weeks, I was game ready and doing everything, sprinting, squatting, doing leg workouts. I played in (the minor league exhibition) games, and everything’s been good.”
Not being in his first big league camp was a downer for Brentz, but it didn’t prevent him from working hard, seeing plenty of action during the exhibition season (he also went 3-for-9 with a homer in four games with Boston), getting acquainted with new teammates, and reconnecting with first-year manager Gary DiSarcina.
“Gary has been awesome,” said Brentz. “The only other time I ran into him was when I was in Lowell (in 2010) and he was the (Red Sox minor league) infield coordinator. That was the only time I really got to hang out with him and it was a blast. He was fun before, and now that he’s my manager, I’m excited to be playing for him.”
Another thing that has Brentz excited is the PawSox’s home opener on April 11 against the Rochester Red Wings. Before the game, Brentz and his teammates and coaches from last year’s team will receive their Governors’ Cup championship rings.
“I might put my ring around my necklace and never take it off,” Brentz said with a smile. “I only got to win one ring, and that was in college. Some guys play in the minors and the big leagues and never get a chance to win a ring, so to get to have one is awesome. It’s a special honor and I’m excited to see it.”