By: Nick Galle
When East Carolina University pitching coach Dan Roszel told Spencer Brickhouse that he was headed to Bourne, Massachusetts, for the summer, the first baseman was eager to use the experience as a springboard to reach the next level. He had never been to Massachusetts, but he knew the reputation that the Cape League had. Just two years later, the Arizona Diamondbacks were selecting him with their seventh-round pick.
Brickhouse played in Bourne in 2017 following his freshman season, and returned to the Braves in 2018. Field manager Harvey Shapiro said that playing in Bourne in 2017 served Brickhouse well as a sophomore the following summer.
“He was here as a freshman, and he was here with a good group of freshman. He was here with (Anthony) Prato from UConn, (Tyler) Fitzgerald from Louisville and (Jared) Triolo from Houston. They all came back next year and they had a clue. They knew what it was all about,” Shapiro said. “Those guys were mature guys, that whole group.”
While he may have already been mature, Brickhouse said the move to the Cape was still a big jump because of the extremely high level of talent that he was now facing.
“It’s not like a weekend series where you face a Friday guy and that guy is the great pitcher that you’re going to face. Every game is a Friday-night guy so that’s something that you have to face and you have to get used to. You just have to make sure that as a hitter you stay locked in throughout every game,” Brickhouse said. “It was a bit different, but it was a good shock, and it was a good way to prepare myself.”
It took Brickhouse a week or two to get acclimated, and the adjustment was not only physical, it was also mental. Out at ECU, the Zebulon, North Carolina, native was only about an hour away from home, so his parents could come and see him play whenever they wanted. Now, Brickhouse found himself 15 hours north with a host family. But, it was that host family that provided him a home away from home.
“The Bourne host families, like the Heyers, they really help out a lot,” Brickhouse said. “It’s a big change and you can really go up there and you can either fold and not be able to deal with the pressure of baseball and the expectations that come from playing in the Cape Cod League, or you can have a host family like the Heyers that really take you in and make you feel comfortable in their own home.”
The ECU Pirate certainly looked comfortable during his time in Bourne, as he posted a career average of .255 with four home runs and 31 RBIs in his 56 games with the Bravos. After his 2017 season was cut short due to injury, Brickhouse bounced back fabulously in 2018, being named a West Division All-Star. He went 2-for-2 with a home run, two RBIs and two runs scored in the All-Star Game to help the West to a 4-3 win.
Shapiro said that there were some noticeable strengths that Brickhouse had as soon as he got to Bourne.
“He did a good job batting, hitting the ball the opposite way, which was unusual for big guys who were freshmen,” Shapiro said. “He was a good player here.”
Although he already had a strong skillset, the 6-foot-4 first baseman said he was still trying to work on some small things each and every day during the summer.
“You’re always making adjustments at the plate as a hitter, but yeah I was also working on some defensive things trying to get better at first base,” Brickhouse said. “Once you get into summer ball, it’s more of you (having) to fine tune some things and you try to make small changes to be able to make adjustments whether you’re in the field, at the plate or in the base paths.”
As he went from a freshman to a sophomore and made those minor changes to fine tune his game, Shapiro said he noticed Brickhouse grow as a player while he was with the Braves.
“He was better, he was more mature, he knew how to handle when he was in a slump,” Shapiro said. “All those things that freshmen struggle with.”
In addition to realizing the growth, Shapiro said that he has also noticed some similarities between Brickhouse and another ECU Pirate who is on this year’s current roster.
“Moylan’s kind of like him as far as his swing,” Shapiro said. “They don’t swing from their rear ends at all. I think sometimes big guys should swing from their rear ends until they have two strikes. They were more as though they had two-strike swings, so they may be teaching more of that at East Carolina.”
The ECU culture also played a major role in Brickhouse’s development to prepare him for the next level. It not only taught him lessons that served him on the field, but off of it as well.
“ECU as a whole (and) the baseball program is very process-driven. They’re very tough. They teach you to be mentally tough, they teach you to be able to handle any situation that is thrown your way,” Brickhouse said. “Through the three years that I was there, I feel like they’ve really given me enough challenges to where I feel like whatever life throws at me I can handle it and not overly stress about it.”
With the knowledge he gained at ECU and the experiences he had out on the Cape, Brickhouse was drafted 212th overall by the Diamondbacks in the 2019 MLB Draft.
“Whether you get drafted in the first round or the 30th round, it doesn’t matter. You were still drafted. You were still good enough. You were still a part of the 1% of collegiate athletes to be able to play a professional sport,” Brickhouse said. “That’s something that nobody can take away from you, and you know that when you get drafted.”
He hit .272 with with six home runs and 34 RBIs with the Missoula PaddleHeads of the Pioneer League back in 2019, and is batting .237 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs this season with the Hillsboro Hops, Arizona’s High-A affiliate. Brickhouse said the Cape Cod League is extremely similar to pro ball, but even after three years of being in the minors, he is still getting adjusted to the next level.
“In college, you have somebody that sets up a routine for you,” Brickhouse said. “When it comes to pro ball, it’s, ‘We have the resources here, but it’s up to you to use these resources because it’s your career,’ and that’s the biggest change that I found in my first year and that was the biggest mental thing.”
Looking back on his time in Bourne, Brickhouse said that some of his best memories didn’t even happen on the field.
“A lot of it’s not even baseball related. A lot of it’s spending time with the Heyers. I still talk to them regularly, and honestly I just feel like they’re just as big a part of my life as my actual family is,” Brickhouse said. “They really made an impact on my life and it was very awesome to be able to hang out with them every night and every off day. Me, Meghan and Nick, we would always be hanging out, going and doing something.”
Now that Brickhouse is at a point in his career that all Cape Cod League players strive to someday reach, the Hillsboro Hop had some words of advice for those that currently find themselves donning a Bourne jersey.
“Enjoy it. Enjoy every minute of baseball because as I’ve gone through professional, collegiate, high school, every part of baseball, you learn that it can be taken away at any point,” Brickhouse said. “In the end, no matter what, whether you have a two-year career in college or if you have a 20-year career in the big leagues, it’s going to come to an end, and you have to realize that, so you need to enjoy every time you go out there and get to play baseball at a high level.”
Cover photo via: Bourne Braves