Thursday, August 16, 2012

Interview Bronswell Patrick, Part 1, Best Feeling

Lake Elsinore Storm pitching coach Bronswell Patrick at The Lake Elsniore Diamond in late July. Patrick played 10 seasons as a pro before finally making the majors. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Best Feeling | Part 2: Paid Off

LAKE ELSINORE, CA - It was his mother that kept him going, Bronswell Patrick recalled recently.

Signed by the Athletics as a late-round pick in 1988 out of high school, Patrick worked his way through the minors.

He made AA in his fifth season. He then made AAA the next year, 1993, his sixth season. But, going into the 1998 season, his 11th season as a pro, AAA was where he remained.

It got to the point where, at some times, Patrick was unsure if he should continue, whether he would ever make the major leagues, he recalled to The Greatest 21 Days.

"I did a lot of talking with friends and family," Patrick told The Greatest 21 Days of his long wait in the minors, and whether he even wanted to continue. "My mom, my mother, she knew how hard I'd worked trying to get to the big leagues. She just kept telling me, 'just stick in there, just stick in there and things will open up for you.'"

"And I did, I listened to her," Patrick said. "Finally, in 1998, my opportunity came, and it was one of the best feelings in the world."

Patrick made the Brewers that year in 1998, his hard work in the minors paying off with nearly an entire season in the majors, the reliever getting into 32 games in all.

Lake Elsniore Storm pitching coach Bronswell Patrick, center, with players before a late July game at The Lake Elsinore Diamond. (G21D Photo)
Patrick spoke to The Greatest 21 Days before a late-July game at The Diamond in Lake Elsinore, Ca., where Patrick now serves as pitching coach in the Padres system, for the high-A Lake Elsinore Storm.

Patrick touched on his introduction to baseball as a youth in North Carolina, his decision to sign with Oakland out of high school and the work in the minors that finally got him to the majors.

He also spoke of his desire to keep playing as long has he could. He kept playing until 2005, extending his career by going to Mexico, and even Korea and Taiwan.

His major league career, though, consisted of that year with the Brewers in 1998 and six final games the next September with the Giants.

Patrick's path to the majors began growing up in North Carolina. He recalled his grandfather, Joseph Little, was the first person to put a ball and bat in his hand. It was similar to a Wiffle ball and bat.

"He started tossing me the balls and I just started whacking at the balls, making pretty good contact," Patrick recalled.

His grandfather lived in Philadelphia and would come down to North Carolina every summer to work with him, Patrick recalled. "It just took off from there. I fell in love with the game."

Lake Elsniore starter Mark Pope delivers to the plate July 26 at The Elisnore Diamond. Pope's pitching coach at Lake Elsinore is Bronswell Patrick. (G21D Photo)
Once he got into organized ball, he excelled. He also always seemed to be bigger than some of the other kids his age. As a 10 year old, he recalled playing with the 12 and 13 year olds.

By the time he got to Winterville High School, he was still playing ahead of his age. He recalled starting on the varsity team as a freshman.

Baseball, though, wasn't his only love. His other love, actually his first love in high school, was football, he recalled.

Scouts came in to watch him play baseball, but Patrick had plans to go to college hoping to play the other game.

Then Oakland took him, in the 23rd round. Just 17 years old, Patrick had a decision to make. Weighing on him was the passing of his father, Jesse Ray Patrick.

"I was the only father figure in the house at the time," Patrick said. "I just felt like this was as great opportunity for me."

Regarding his interest in football, he decided to take the offer with Oakland, to give it a shot.

"I did and I was fortunate enough to stay in the organization for six years and move up the ranks, made it all the way to Tacoma," Patrick said. "Never made it to the big leagues with Oakland, but just my love for the game at the time, once I started playing, getting to meet different guys, it just took off."

Lake Elsinore pitching coach Bronswell Patrick, right, walks back to the dugout before a game July 26 at The Lake Elsinore Diamond. (G21D Photo)
With the Athletics, Patrick started off in rookie ball, in the Arizona League. He didn't turn 18 until that September.

Patrick recalled the Arizona League being markedly different than his high school days, or his expectations.

"As a high schooler, you think you're going to come in and be dominate right away," Patrick said. "that's not always the case."

He recalled looking around at all the great players from California and Florida, all on the same team. "You're pretty much back to square one because you're thrown in the pot with everyone else."

"At first it was kind of intimidating," Patrick said a short time later. "but the game is played the same. Once I got my first underneath my belt, everything else just took care of itself."

Patrick went 8-3 in 13 starts that year in Arizona, posting a 2.99 ERA. The next year, he made single-A Madison out of spring training. He then split 1990 between Madison and high-A Modesto.

In 1992, the still-21-year-old made AA Huntsville. It was his fifth pro season. He went 13-7 in 29 starts. He also admitted then he started looking ahead. It's not unheard of for guys to make the jump directly from AA to the majors.

"Now you start thinking, 'OK, now I got a chance to pitch in the big leagues here,'" Patrick recalled. "It's like you're one step away, pretty much, one injury away from being in the big leagues.

"That extra incentive starts to kick in, once you get to AA and realize how close you are."

He made AAA Tacoma in 1993, playing that year without getting called up. Though it was his sixth year in pro ball, Patrick said he wasn't getting frustrated. He pointed to his age that first year in AAA, still 22.

"I knew at that time Oakland, they had a pretty good staff up there," Patrick said. I took a beating my first year in AAA, took my lumps. It was a learning process for me."

"But I kept my head on straight. I didn't get to big headed. I just felt, 'I'm young, I'm just going to come here and do my job. If I have an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues, I do. If not, then I just got to have success and hopefully something will work out."

For Patrick, it took a few more years, but, in 1998, it finally worked out.

Go to Part 2, Bronswell Patrick, Paid Off

Part 1: Best Feeling | Part 2: Paid Off

This was the third of 10 interviews picked up on The Greatest 21 Days' July 2012 trip to central and southern California. 

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