Brennan Boesch has been a pleasant surprise in Motown this summer, establishing himself as a potent bat in the middle of the Tigers' lineup and a leading candidate for American League Rookie of the Year honors. A 25-year-old outfielder who was taken in the third round of the 2006 draft, the lefty-swinging Boesch has hit a heady .286/.348/.483—numbers that were even better prior to a recent slump—since making his big-league debut in late April. The sturdily-built 6-foot-4, 235-pound slugger leads AL rookies in several categories, including extra-base hits (35), home runs (12), and RBI (53).
David Laurila: How would you describe yourself?
Brennan Boesch: I am… that’s a tough one to answer. I’m just a part of a family that I care a lot about; I’m a brother to a sister that I’m really close with. I’m a friend to many of my teammates. I also feel like I’m on a journey. I don’t really know exactly where it’s going, but I’m enjoying the ride. I don’t know what the destination is, but my life has been very blessed and fulfilling thus far.
DL: You attended Cal-Berkeley. Does that say anything about you?
BB: It does. I had an opportunity to sign out of high school and decided to go to college, and it was a school that opened a lot of doors for me and let me think of things differently. It also provided me an opportunity to play some top baseball in the Pac-10, so it was a tremendous experience overall.
DL: What is the life of a student-athlete at a Pac-10 school like?
BB: It’s tough, because you’re always in a balancing act. For me, I put baseball in front of my academics always, which might not sound like the right answer, but that’s just the fact. I always knew that I wanted to be a baseball player and I didn’t go to Cal to become an engineer; I went to play in the Pac-10 and also get an education. I never missed a practice because of a class. I prided myself on being prepared to play baseball every day, rather than stressing over exams, which I did fine in, so it was all about baseball. For me, it’s always been about baseball.
DL: Did you major in engineering?
BB: No, I was in American Studies, which is kind of a general studies program.
DL: Did most of your teammates also put baseball ahead of academics?
BB: No, I would say that everyone on our roster except for Brandon Morrow and Allen Craig, who are both in the major leagues, with the Blue Jays and the Cardinals, respectively, [did not]. Everyone else was an engineering major, a business major, or an econ major, and they would sometimes miss practices because of tough assignments. I was never that guy. I was always there early to do extra hitting. I liked my time in Berkeley, but I was there to play baseball and compete in the Pac-10 conference, not to be the next engineer.
DL: What was your draft experience like?
BB: I don’t think the draft is ever that fun of an experience for anyone, but it’s a part of the game. It’s a business and you start to see the business side of baseball, and if I were to do it all over again, I’d put less pressure on myself and just go out and play and have fun. But really, it means nothing. Once you’re drafted, you have to recreate everything and everyone is pretty much on the same playing field. It doesn’t matter where you were drafted, you just have to perform. Your journey starts after you get drafted.
DL: You began your professional career in the New York-Penn League. How did life in Oneonta, New York compare to Berkeley, California?
BB: I was just excited to be playing pro ball. Our team didn’t necessarily perform the way we wanted it to in college, and I was able to start fresh in pro ball. I really embraced that, even with the setup in Oneonta not being ideal, what with the small clubhouses and the walk to the dorms up a hill. It was definitely a different experience in that respect, but I wouldn’t trade it in for anything.
I learned a lot about baseball under Tom Brookens, who is now our first-base coach but was my manager for three years in the minor leagues. From day one, he let me know about his expectations of me as a ballplayer; he helped me out a lot.
DL: I first saw you play in 2007, when you were at Low-A West Michigan. How different of a player are you today than you were then?
BB: I’m very different. I’m a late bloomer as far as my physical maturity and I was still growing into my body. I’ve gotten a lot stronger and a lot more physical, and I have a lot more power than I did then. I always played hard and always had a knack for driving in runs, even though I wasn’t as good of a hitter, so I was learning things then that I would definitely not take back. And we won a championship that year, so I learned not just how to be a good ballplayer, but also how to win and be a good teammate.
DL: In 2008, you hit five home runs playing in High-A Lakeland. In 2009, you hit 28 in Double-A Erie. How much of that was league and park factors as opposed to your development as a hitter?
BB: Everything has a little bit of an impact, obviously. The Florida State League is a notoriously pitcher-friendly league, so naturally I would probably have a lower total in that league as I was continuing to develop, but every ballplayer has a story. Everyone has a reason behind what’s going on and the numbers don’t really tell the whole story. I was still learning about hitting—I was still trying to find my ability—and something clicked over that offseason where I started to really have better focus at the plate and better preparation. My swing really started to click, and the next thing I knew I was hitting a lot more home runs.
DL: How much of an impact has [Tigers minor-league hitting coordinator] Toby Harrah had on your career?
BB: He’s had a tremendous impact. He was there every step of the way and he never gave up on me, he never doubted me, he was always positive, he always kept it simple. Pretty much everything you could ask for in a hitting coordinator, he did. I still think back to things that Toby and I talked about. He was such a tremendous hitter when he played and all of the knowledge that he helped put into me is something that I’ll never forget and will always be grateful for.
DL: Coming into this season, scouting reports labeled you as more of a free swinger than a disciplined hitter. Is that something you‘re working to improve upon?
BB: I’m not working on anything specific; I’m just trying to get better and more consistent as a hitter. Everyone is obsessed with this Moneyball thing or whatever—taking pitches—but I like where I’m at right now. My manager has confidence in me just the way I am. He always tells me not to change; he likes the way I hit, he likes the way I play the game. I just play hard to win and I think that guys who do that, who try to drive runs in, maybe aren’t taking as many pitches and trying to work walks. I’m here to drive in runs. That’s the bottom line. My free-swinging nature is something that is put on me, but I don’t see it as a negative at all.
DL: What was it like getting called up to the big leagues for the first time?
BB: I had this belief that at some point I’d be up here this year. I didn’t know when, but when Carlos [Guillen] went down, which was unfortunate for him, I was the one who got the call. Deep down, I knew it would be this year; I just had this feeling. The way I had been performing, I felt that it was the time. When I got called up, I really kind of had a carefree attitude about it and I’ve tried to maintain that as the year has gone on. Sometimes it’s not easy, but the more fun I have and the less I worry about my results, and try not to do too much, the better the outcome always is. That’s the approach that has always worked for me and it’s the approach I want to continue to have as my career goes on.
DL: What have some of the highlights been thus far?
BB: Playing the Yankees was a lot of fun for me, getting an opportunity to hit against CC Sabathia. I was able to hit him OK; that day I hit a home run. That was a thrill for me, having followed the Yankees and all of the history behind them. Being a part of my teammates’ milestones has been a highlight as well. I was there for Magglio [Ordonez]’s 2,000th hit and Johnny [Damon]’s 1,500th run, and being on the field for those was cool.
But personally, every time that I walk into the clubhouse and see my name in the lineup, I kind of smile and say that this is a dream come true. I just kind of always go back to the memory of sitting in Dodger Stadium and dreaming of being a big-league player, and how maybe one day I could be here. The fact that it has come true is something I’ll be forever grateful for.