It was obvious my so-called knowledge of pop culture had gaping holes.
Standing on the field in Huntsville, Ala., in the summer of 2007, I was set to interview Tampa Bay Rays shortstop phenom prospect Reid Brignac. We were adjusting his mic and checking levels when he said to me “I don’t know what to do with my hands.”
“Well, don’t worry about them,” I assured the then-21-year-old. “We’ll pretty much just focus on a closeup of your face anyway.”
Everyone cracked up. I was oblivious.
Hey, dude, I am just not a Will Ferrell fan, what can I tell you? It was weeks, maybe months, before I finally saw the clip from the movie “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and understood what Brignac was referencing.
The next time I saw him, I think it was in the Arizona Fall League, I admitted that I FINALLY “got it.” Duh.
So last month, Brignac was one of a handful of elite prospects on hand for the annual Rookie Career Development Program hosted jointly by Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association.
Among the many worthwhile programs they offer is an in-depth look at how to work with the media. And of course, among the clips they showed, was that clip from the film.
Needless to say, Brignac needled me about it over lunch. And I totally deserved it.
But I can also add that it’s been a lot of fun to watch how Brignac has gone from the unbelievably shy, sweet kid I first met during 2007 spring training, who probably DIDN’T know what to do with his hands, to one of the most engaging guys around.
This past season had its highs and lows, as he made his big league debut on July 4, but missed the last month of the season, including playoffs with both his Triple-A Durham Bulls and the Rays, after having his wrist broken when he was hit by a pitch in early August.
The Louisiana native, the Rays’ second-round pick in 2004 out of high school, spent a few days with the big club before returning to Durham, where he finished with a .250 average with nine homers and 43 RBIs in 97 games.
Brignac still projects prominently in the Rays’ plans. In 2006 he won California League MVP honors after hitting .326 with 21 homers and 83 RBIs at Advanced A Visalia, going on to hit .260 with 17 homers, 81 RBIs and 15 steals at Double-A Montgomery in 2007, helping lead that team to the Southern League championship at just 21 years old.
Now, with 2009 on the horizon, things are looking markedly better for Brignac who, now healthy, is already down in Florida working out with his teammates at Tropicana Field in anticipation of the move down the Gulf Coast to the new spring training digs in Port Charlotte.
“It’s part of the game, and it might not have been my time,” he said. “But we’ve got a new year now and I’m really looking forward to competing for a job.”
GOTMILB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
RB: I’ve always been baseball, baseball, baseball. I’ve always wanted to make it to the major leagues. That was always my dream. So right now I’d have to say that was the biggest accomplishment for me personally. As far as teams go, we’ve won a couple of Double-A championships (with Montgomery) and that was exciting, celebrating and having a good time with my teammates, but I also won a state championship in high school with over half a team I’d known and played with my whole life.
GOTMILB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
RB: I’d probably be coaching baseball. I like to help young kids get better at the game and I think I’ll always be teaching the game when I’m done with my career. I’ve learned so much through great coaches that I’d like to pass on what I’ve learned.
GOTMILB: What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
RB: I was a stock boy at a grocery store working in the cooler where it was freezing cold, stocking beer and drinks. But an even worse job was being an umpire when I was 13 or 14, with kids who were 9 and 10. I could tell right away it wasn’t for me. I respect umpires and it’s not an easy job. It’s a reaction and once you make a call you have to stand by it, right or wrong.
GOTMILB: Who was your childhood crush?
RB: I grew up with three beautiful neighbors as a child. The oldest was named Paisley Broussard and I had the biggest crush on her. My parents would always say ‘Whenever Paisley walks into the room, Reid gets SO RED.” Now she’s married and about to have a child.
GOTMILB: If you could trade places with one person for a day who would it be and why?
RB: It would have to be something fun and exciting if it’s only for one day. Being LeBron James would be a great day.
GOTMILB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?
RB: That first full season was an eye-opener for me, being the first time I’ve ever had to play that many games and run out there every day. In high school you play 50 games max. I learned, going into the next off-season, how to better prepare myself for what I was going to go through. No one in my family, none of my friends, had ever been drafted so it was all new to me. And after that first full season I learned how to take care of my body, when to go out and when to stay home, certain things you learn as you get older.
GOTMILB: Who is the most unusual character you’ve met in your pro baseball career?
RB: (Rays outfielder) Fernando Perez, who is one of my best friends. He’s such an intelligent person who could do anything he wants in life, he doesn’t have to play baseball to be successful. I admire him for all the things he’s accomplished in his life. There’s nobody like Fernando and nobody will ever be like him.
GOTMILB: What is the best minor league promotion or visiting act you’ve seen?
RB: Myron Noodleman is my favorite. One of the first games my mom and dad came to watch me play was in Charleston, SC and he was the act for the night. We’d never seen him and we just loved him. He was hilarious and got the crowd really involved.