By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
NORTHFIELD — Denny Brady has done a lot on the baseball diamond, from his days as a star at Buena Regional High School, to East Carolina, to four levels of professional baseball. He can throw a baseball upwards of 96 miles per hour, and in his four-year minor-league career in the Los Angeles Angels’ organization, Brady accumulated 180 strikeouts — nearly four times as many Ks as walks.
But if you look at his professional batting statistics you’ll see a whole lot of zeroes. Not one plate appearance in the minor leagues.
So, when another former Buena standout, Marco Rios, asked Brady to join the Buena Blue Dawgs in the South Jersey South Shore Baseball League this summer as Brady continues to work his way back to professional ball after suffering an injury that led to his release by the Angels, Brady had just one question — “can I hit?”
Oh, boy, can he hit.
In the top of the seventh inning of Game 1 of the SJSSBL Championship Series, Brady launched one of the longest home runs that Birch Grove Park has ever seen, high into the trees beyond the left-field fence. The two-run blast gave No. 2 Buena a 4-2 lead over top-seeded South Jersey Surf, and Brady closed out a complete-game victory on the mound in the bottom of the seventh as the Blue Dawgs took a 1-0 advantage in the series with a 5-3 victory.
“He threw me a pair of two-strike sliders and I had two good swings on them (fouling them back). I was sitting on a fastball, hopefully middle-in, and that’s exactly what he gave me,” Brady explained. “If he had thrown me another slider he might have gotten the out there, but I was looking for (the fastball) and he gave it to me.”
Two batters later, Jake Guglielmi blasted a solo homer to right-center to push the lead to 5-2. In the bottom of the seventh, former Mainland Regional standout Logan Petty drilled a solo home run to deep right field off Brady to cut the Surf’s deficit to 5-3, but Brady struck out the next two batters to end the game.
Brady’s blast spoiled what had been an excellent outing by Carson Denham (Cape May Tech/Arcadia) up to that point. Prior to the seventh, Denham had allowed just four hits while striking out seven. Brady allowed the tying run on a rocket line drive home run in the sixth by former EHT High star Monny Strickland, but said he didn’t feel any pressure when he came to bat in the seventh in a 2-2 game.
“This season, I wanted to hit. It’s been a while since I’ve hit. One of my friends, Marco Rios, I know he played for this team and he was trying to get me on board. He said, ‘come on and play for us, it will be fun.’ I said, why not? I can hit and I’ll still be able to pitch. Of course, Marco decided not to play this year, but it ended up working out great for me. I’ve made a lot of friends on this team,” Brady said. “This is for fun. I have enough confidence in myself to know I’m at least going to perform decently well. I’ll get some outs on the mound and I figured I’d barrel a couple of balls up. There’s never any pressure with these guys. They expect me to do well, but if I don’t, I’ve had bad games and they are the same people to me, regardless.”
The Surf (21-4) got on the board first in the bottom of the second thanks to singles by Antonio Caraballo and Eric Fitzgerald and two wild pitches, but Jack Peacock (St. Augustine Prep/Rowan College of South Jersey-Cumberland) gave Buena (20-6, 10 straight wins) a 2-1 lead with a two-run home run in the top of the fifth. Jimmy Kurtz laced a two-out single to center, and Peacock followed up with a drive just out of the reach of Surf center fielder Kevin Foreman (St. Augustine Prep) at the fence.
“I wasn’t on the team last year, but luckily I got to play with these guys (this summer). This is awesome. I love playing with ex-professional guys. I get to play with Denny, Alexi Colon — it’s an experience you don’t really get to have anywhere else,” Peacock said. “The previous at-bat I struck out. He came with a fastball, slider, fastball and another slider, so I was thinking he was going to come with a fastball again, and I was ready. I just let it go. Honestly, I didn’t think it was getting out at first, but it was good. I needed that.”
Peacock said he and his teammates had full confidence that Brady would come through with a big hit in the seventh.
“Anytime Denny comes up, the ball can go over the fence,” he said. “The dude is just a full athlete. He’s really good. He’s really fun to watch. Denny’s a great guy. He treats you like anybody else, even though he’s played professionally.”
Brady, a seventh-round draft pick out of Mercer County College in 2017, said he still wants to get back to professional baseball, and Monday’s effort — and his entire summer in the South Jersey South Shore Baseball League — is a step in the right direction.
“Today, I wanted to throw strikes and get outs. I ended up getting a little bit of a blister in the second inning, so I had to throw a lot of sliders. My game plan kind of changed, but still to throw strikes and get outs is the priority,” he said. “This is definitely good competition. I gave up some barrels today, so obviously that team can hit. As far as my stuff goes, I still have a ways to go. There’s a big difference between the competition here and where I want to be, so I know I still have to tighten things up. But, right now, I feel like I’m in a good spot.”
The best-of-5 championship series resumes tonight in Buena at 7:30 p.m. at Bruno Melini Park. Last year — the inaugural season of the SJSSBL — the Surf won the title by beating Buena three-games-to-one in the finals.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays