From Brahma to Bulldog

Philip George / Roundup

The Cinderella story of the 2008 College World Series has called upon Pierce College for its next chapter.

The Fresno State University team, which shocked the nation last summer when it defeated the Bulldogs of the University of Georgia, has successfully brought aboard sophomore pitcher J.R. Bromberg, who accepted its scholarship offer in November.

Bromberg was discovered by the university while pitching in last year’s Sophomore All-Star Game at U.C. Irvine following his freshman campaign.

“I pitched pretty well down there and a lot of coaches contacted me, but Fresno State made the best offer, so I took it,” Bromberg said.

Fresno state will cover all of Bromberg’s tuition and book fees, as well as half his housing costs, while allotting him $200 each month.

“I can’t be happier for J.R.,” said Tom Seyler, Bromberg’s coach at Palisades Charter High School with whom he still keeps in close contact. “To go to Fresno State, the national champions? What an honor. That’s just outstanding.”

Bromberg joined Seyler, then an assistant coach, as a freshman in 2002 and immediately impressed.

“He had a lot of talent,” Seyler said. “He had a long arm, kind of a natural pitching motion, pretty decent pop as a hitter. He had a lot of potential at an early age.”

But while the physical attribute of his game showed promise, his mentality needed some fine-tuning.

“He was just like your typical freshman — undisciplined, not really focused on what he wanted to do,” Seyler said. “We set the limits on what we expected as a baseball player: hard work, dedication, commitment, all those things.

“We preached a lot of getting to the baseball field early, getting in a little bit of time before practice and then staying after practice and working a little more,” he continued. “Get to the yard early and leave late, and he definitely did that. He was out there early, he would stay afterward and get some cuts and work off the mound. He was a real hard-working kid.”

Bromberg’s work ethic paid off in his senior year at Palisades when he led the Lions to a 15-0 record and the Western League title while serving as their right fielder and cleanup hitter, as well as a nine-game winner on the mound.

The Minnesota Twins took notice of Bromberg’s stellar performance and selected him in the 32nd round of the 2007 First-Year Amateur Player Draft.

“When I was drafted out of high school, I thought I was still young and not mature enough to play pro baseball,” Bromberg said. “I came to Pierce because [pitching coach John Bushart] was my pitching coach all my life and I knew Pierce was a good baseball school.”

In his freshman season with the Brahmas, Bromberg posted a 3-2 record with a 4.83 ERA and was drafted by the Twins once again — this time in the 49th round of the 2008 draft. When concerns about a possible arm injury arose and prevented him from signing with Minnesota, Bromberg returned to Pierce and vowed to take his health more seriously.

“He did a great job this summer getting his body in shape with his running, in the gym, doing those sorts of things,” said Brahmas head coach Joe Arnold. “He’s transformed himself and got into the shape that he needed to get in. Not just the shape to be okay, but the shape to be at the top of his game.”

That transformation not only had an effect on Bromberg personally, but also on the man he identifies as his baseball role-model, brother David Bromberg who led the entire minor leagues in strikeouts while in the Twins’ organization.

“He motivated me a little bit to lose weight because I came back and saw my brother and I was like, ‘Man, J.R, you’ve been in the gym,'” David said. “I’ve lost 20 pounds just being motivated from my younger brother.”

As the older sibling, however, David does his part to motivate his brother as well.

“Every time he’s about to pitch a game, I call him up and tell him, ‘Hey, don’t [mess] around,'” he said. “‘Go in the dugout and sit down and focus before your start. Visualize what you’re going to do.’ I just tell him, ‘You’ve got to go out there with confidence no matter who the hitter is. You’ve got to go out there and know you’re better than any hitter up there.'”

J.R. Bromberg has struggled so far in this young season, posting a record of 1-0 with an abysmal 12.60 ERA and mostly serving in relief duty — a potential red flag for scouts — but Arnold insists his star pitcher is healthy.

“I think it’s more of a mental thing,” Arnold said. “I think it’s a confidence thing. I still have a lot of confidence in him and we’re going to get this thing right.”

As for how far Bromberg can go in the future, Arnold believes the sky is the limit as long as he sets his mind to it.

“That depends on J.R. Bromberg,” he said. “He’s obviously got the size and the stuff to play in the big leagues, it’s just a matter of timing and luck and a lot of that you create for yourself. If he continues to do the little things and have the discipline and the work ethic and continue to develop, he can go as far as he wants.”

Despite a slow start this season, Head Coach Joe Arnold has confidence in J.R. Bromberg. (Louie Herdedia / Roundup)