It's a story you hear or read about every year. A kid who grew up playing baseball persevered, kept dreaming, kept playing, and then, somehow, someway, got the call, and ended up in the major leagues. You hear that story every year or two because that's how often it happens, out of the thousands, or tens of thousands that play the game. What you never hear about, is it happening in your town, to a guy you know.
Meet 27 year-old Brock Stassi (pictured left). In 2007, Brock's senior year at Yuba City High School, he batted .440, with 37 hits in 29 games. Eleven of those 37 hits were for extra bases (2 home runs), and he drove in 37 runs. Oh, and he was also 10-0 as a pitcher, had 98 strikeouts in 63 innings, and an earned run average of 1.00. All of that, and he wasn't even considered the best player in his family.
His brother Max, two years younger and a sophomore in '07, had verbally committed to UCLA, but as a catcher, everyone knew he would be drafted out of high school. Jim Stassi, the boy's father and head coach at Yuba City High, was a player in his day, and as a catcher, got to Triple-A in the Giants organization. A third son Jake, a talented player in his own right, was still in junior high at the time.
Not to make it sound like there was any animosity anywhere in that family, because that couldn't be further from the truth, but Brock's outstanding high school numbers didn't get him drafted. He did, however, end up at his father's alma mater, the University of Nevada. The Reno school didn't really know what to do with him, though. Should he hit or pitch? He pretty much concentrated on hitting with the Wolfpack, and in the summer of 2008, he played summer ball at home, batting .363 with the Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox, winning team MVP honors.
Still, when he was draft eligible in 2010, he was selected in the 44th round by the Cleveland Indians. There were only 50 rounds in the draft then (40 now), so he went back to Reno for his senior season. The next year, he was a 33rd round selection by the Phillies—not a major league prospect by any means.
Brock lingered in the minor leagues, but then it started to come together for him. The lefty with pop in his bat hit .300 with 15 homers at Double-A Reading in 2015, and last year at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, he had 100 hits, batted. 267, and swatted 12 long balls. Ticketed to go back to Triple-A this year, he was called into Philadelphia manager Pete Mackanin's office at the end of spring training, and expecting the news, was instead asked what number he wanted. He was on the team as a big leaguer. Reporters got to him soon after, and Stassi held back tears.
Today (April 3) in Cincinnati, Brock was sent to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. He walked, and is now in the record books as a big leaguer. He's also the seventh Gold Sox player to make it to the show, and the first of those seven to make his major league debut on Opening Day.
Number eight, though, is not far behind, Pitcher Justin Haley is also in the majors for the first time. He didn't pitch today, but will get plenty of opportunities with the rebuilding Twins. Haley was taken in this winter's Rule Five Draft, which means if he doesn't stay in the majors all year, he'll have to be offered back to his old team, the Boston Red Sox.
Haley, 25 and from Fair Oaks, is not quite the longshot that Brock Stassi was in getting this far, but he's gotten to the show certainly a lot sooner than expected. After graduating from Bella Vista High School, Haley went to Sierra College, and was drafted in the 46th round by the Cleveland Indians in 2010—two rounds later than Stassi, and by the same team in the same draft. Justin wouldn't sign, and instead went to Fresno State. Two years later, Boston took him in the sixth round.
The summer of 2010 is when the Gold Sox had him. All he did then was set a franchise record (which still stands), for pitching the most innings without allowing an earned run. He was 4-0 with a save in 27 innings, and had 35 strikeouts. Fresno State noticed, and so did the scouts.
It's still always a long shot to get to the major leagues, but the Gold Sox have done pretty well. The franchise, which started playing collegiate summer ball in 2003, has had just over 300 players. Until this morning, six had appeared on big league rosters (Dallas Braden, Tommy Everidge, Anthony Bass, Curtis Partch, Max Stassi, and Cody Anderson). That's two percent. Add Brock Stassi and Justin Haley, and you're almost up to three. Stories you may hear about a lot, but not very often when they are this close to home.
Not impressed: Wednesday, one day before it was announced that Stassi had made the Phillies ball club, ESPN Baseball Tonight host Adnan Virk asked analyst and former big league GM Jim Bowden what he thought of Brock's six spring training home runs. “Ah, it's spring training”, he said, and that was it. Also, Bowden, when making his season predictions on where teams would finish in the standings, gave one or two sentences about every team. That is, except the Oakland A's, which were dismissed without comment.
Alumni report: Max Stassi has been assigned to Triple-A Fresno by the Astros, and figures to be the first catcher back to the big club if/when needed... Bass, back in the United States from Japan where his Nippon Ham Fighters won the championship, has been assigned to minor league camp with the Texas Rangers. The minor leagues open on Thursday... Cody Anderson will miss the 2017 season with Tommy John (elbow ligament) surgery.
New rules: We've commented in this space about how ridiculous the new automatic intentional walk is (saves about 12 seconds a game by our calculations), but even the players and managers think it's weird In the few that happened during season openers, the opposing dugout, and even the batter himself, didn't exactly seem to know what to do after the manager held up four fingers from the dugout. Also new this year, the Disabled List is now a minimum of ten days instead of 15, so expect more players to be put on it because they can come back sooner.
Class is in session: Since Stassi rhymes with classy, we give you this note. With David Price injured to start the season, the obvious move to open the season on the mound for the Red Sox would be their new stud lefty Chris Sale, but that's not what Boston manager John Farrell opted to do. He went with righty Rick Porcello, who won the Cy Young Award last year. Even Porcello would probably tell you that Sale is the better pitcher, but the right-hander was 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA last year. Classy move by the Red Sox.
Name change: It has nothing to do with a corporate merger, but Comcast, which networks broadcast the A's and Giants, will now be known as NBC Sports. The A's are on NBC Sports California and the Giants are on NBC Sports Bay Area. Comcast owns NBC, and has for the past couple of years, so this appears to be some sort of branding issue.
Hoops update: Had to get it in. North Carolina defeated Gonzaga 71-65 to win the NCAA Basketball championship. It was a foul fest and a missed shot contest, but somehow still an entertaining game. The Tar Heels win their third title under head coach Roy Williams, one more than they won under legendary coach Dean Smith. Gonzaga head man Mark Few, a legend in his own right, took the school to its first Final Four and national championship game.
Grammar school: Broadcasters or high profile figures using words that are not words is a big pet peeve of mine, and two of the best are guilty this week. Clayton Kershaw, in a narrative used by ESPN to promote Opening Day, referred to “anxiousness” when describing the anticipation of the big day (the word is anxiety). And one of the best in the business, CBS' Jim Nantz, dropped a “resiliency” during the Final Four on Saturday. This is common in television sports, and while dictionary.com will let you get away with it, the word is “resilience”.