Former Phoenix John Brebbia makes a rare rise to the Major Leagues

John Brebbia entered his second Major League Baseball game Tuesday night at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. It was the fifth inning of a butt-ugly game between the Cardinals – the team Brebbia joined on Saturday from Triple A Memphis – and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The bases were loaded, Cards down 6-3. The previous Cardinals pitcher was tossing lighter fluid on the flames and the home plate umpire apparently misplaced his concept of a strike zone.

Brebbia cardsIt was one fine mess Brebbia found himself in.

The game was on national TV. The St. Louis bullpen was ravaged by recent poor starting performances. The bullpen has been shaky all year. So it was an interesting spot for Brebbia, who pitched on the collegiate level for Elon University.  He was an emergency call-up on Saturday to St. Louis. His Major League debut came on Sunday in Colorado.

Oh yeah, and Tuesday was his 27th birthday. So there was a lot going on as Brebbia entered the game.

The announcers on ESPN had done their homework on Brebbia, sort of. Jon Sciambi knew, for example, that he was from Sharon, Massachusetts and that he was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 30th round of the 2011 draft. They were aware Brebbia had bounced around the minors for a while, even taking a roster spot in an Independent League, which is pretty much one step away being out of the game.

They knew he played at Elon and the school got a shout out, sort of. During a conversation in the fifth inning, while Brebbia was working his way out of a nasty jam, Sciambi casually mentioned that Brebbia spent his collegiate career at … Elon College.

Whiff: Swing and a miss. Well, OK, upon further review he got a piece of it.

Sciambi didn’t stop there. He dropped the name of longtime umpire Joe West into the conversation, noting that he, too, was an Elon College product.

Routine single: One for two.

That’s how it goes every now and then for Elon, which became a university in 2001 after decades of being a college. Every now and then someone in the national media who probably doesn’t know better, slips and refers to the university as Elon College. Usually it occurs in broadcasting – most often in sports. It’s not a problem, really. More of a minor irritation. Elon is still Elon and any positive publicity is not bad at all.

Brebbia, by the way, held up his end beautifully. He walked in a run with the bases loaded – not his fault, the umpire blew some ball and strike calls and cost the team a run – and got a strikeout to end the inning. He tossed an inning and two-thirds, allowed no earned runs and struck out one.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch story, “Brebbia shines in tough spot,” lauded the right-hander’s performance. For his part, Brebbia did what any smart pitcher might do – listen to the best catcher in the game. He told the Post-Dispatch that he kept two things in mind in the fifth.

“Don’t let the game speed up on you and listen to Yadier Molina. He’s an unbelievable catcher and he knows what he’s doing, so make sure that I kinda follow his lead.”

Wise, indeed. As a lifelong Cardinals fan and now staff member at Elon I’ll be following Brebbia closer than most.

Brebbia Elon

Brebbia in his Elon uniform after being drafted by the New York Yankees.

According to e-net, which provides news about all things Elon, Brebbia is the first former Elon player to reach the bigs since 2006. Right-hander Joe Winkelsas was called up in 2006 for the Milwaukee Brewers. He spent two seasons in the National League with the Brewers and Atlanta Braves.

Elon does have great tradition in Major League Baseball – largely from its decades of Elon College history. I mentioned Cowboy Joe West before. He played football (quarterback) at Elon before embarking on a long and sometimes bumpy career as an umpire first in the National League starting in 1976. Drew Coble is a former American League umpire from Alamance County who attended Elon College. Dick Such was an Elon College pitcher, a Major League pitcher and later Major League manager for the Minnesota Twins. In the 1980s Greg Harris pitched at Elon before posting a seven-year career in Major League Baseball with San Diego, Colorado and Minnesota. Greg Booker, a Burlington native, Cummings High graduate and Elon right-hander had a seven-year off-and-on career with San Diego, Minnesota and San Francisco. Harris and Booker perhaps owe their starts to Jack McKeon, who was GM of the San Diego Padres when they were chosen by that ballclub. Trader Jack, a New Jersey native, calls Alamance County home and has almost since his own minor league career dating to the 1950s.

In all, 10 former Elon College / University players have played on the Major League level starting with Bunny Hearn in 1910. Bill Evans, Cap Clark, Ted Abernathy, Ed Sauer and Tom Brewer also made the list.

The length of time from Harris to Winkelsas and now Brebbia points out the difficulty of making the Major Leagues. That’s why when Elon University athletes get on the national stage it’s important to make sure announcers or other media members get the name right. Tuesday night I sent a post via Twitter to ESPN about the inaccuracy. I never heard back from them. They probably don’t think it’s a very big deal.

But it is.

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