Field of dreams

Daniel Brodsky, 18, tips his cap for a camera projecting his image on the Jumbotron screen at Busch Stadium on Friday night during the PNC Bank High School Showcase. The annual event brought together 50 top local players to play in front of NCAA coaches and professional scouts.  Photo: Lisa Mandel

By Ellie S. Grossman, Special to the Jewish Light

St. Louis Cardinals fans are as passionate as they come. So imagine the thrill of actually getting a chance to swing the bat, throw the ball, and maybe even slide into home plate at Busch Stadium, the very same place where the Redbirds won the World Series as recently as 2011.

For 18-year-old Daniel Brodsky, who grew up wearing cleats and a leather ball glove, the dream of playing in the big leagues became a reality, even if for only one night.  Last Friday, under the lights at the 46,000-seat Busch Stadium, Brodsky took off his cap, acknowledged the cheering fans, sang the national anthem, and watched his face projected on the big screen before he manned second base at the PNC Bank High School Baseball Showcase (HSBS).

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“Standing there on second base, and just looking around, it was one of the most exciting and built-up experiences that I’ve had throughout my baseball career,” said Brodsky, a Parkway North graduate who thought he reached his pinnacle when the Vikings made it to the state championship last year. “Playing the game at night made it feel as close as it gets to a major league game.”

Of the approximately 2,500 varsity baseball players in the St. Louis metro area each year, Brodsky is one of only 50 players to make the cut. High school coaches from both sides of the river nominate the individual players, and then a committee of sportswriters, who have followed these players over the years, handpicks the All-Star team. This year, the HSBS represented a diversity of high schools, including Francis Howell in St. Charles County, Triad High School in southern Illinois, Westminster Christian Academy in Town and Country, and Metro East Lutheran in Edwardsville. In the four years that this annual event has taken place, Brodsky, along with outfielder Lex Kaplan, are the first Jewish players to make the roster, according to a PNC spokesman. (Kaplan, a Ladue Horton Watkins High School graduate who will play baseball at the University of Miami in the fall was unable to play outfield in this year’s HSBS because of a last-minute conflict in his tournament schedule with his summer team, the Bayside Yankees in New York.)

Brodsky and Kaplan, by the way, were both recently honored in the 2nd team All-Metro as top players in their positions.

The HSBS, presented by Rawlings and Prairie Farms, gives young players a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show off their skills in front of NCAA coaches and professional scouts, including former Cardinals pitcher Alan Benes and former player and ESPN commentator Chris Duncan.

“I believe in the value of youth sports,” said St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny, one of the HSBS founders. “Seeing these talented kids come out and play for love of the game is something that inspires me every year.” Matheny’s son Tate, a 2012 Westminster Christian Academy graduate, played in the 2012 game and was eventually drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Even though Brodsky isn’t counting on being drafted by a major league team, he hopes that baseball is part of his future as he plans to study sports administration at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. this fall. In addition to his other accomplishments—batted .446 with five doubles, five triples, one home run, 10 RBI, 39 runs, .549 OBP and .663, not to mention All-Conference Honorable Mention as a junior and 1st team Suburban South Conference as a senior—Brodsky can add HSBS to his resume.  

 “Playing on a field where I’ve watched guys who I idolize, it’s almost a dream come true in itself, and knowing that the guys I played with are so talented, I’m just honored to be a part of the whole experience,” said Brodsky, who participated in Maccabi baseball for three years and currently plays second base for American Legion-Creve Coeur Post 397.

“It’s every boy’s dream to play in the big leagues as soon as they start playing baseball.  I’m no exception. I’ve watched the Futures game during All-Star Week before, and I see guys who are on the brink of the major leagues talk about how cool it is to play in a major league ballpark for the first time.  It’s so exciting that I actually got to play at not just any major league park, but Busch Stadium, a field that’s been part of two World Series championships, and a rich baseball atmosphere in between,” said Brodsky.s

Giving back to the community is part of the HSBS experience as well. In fact, a week before the game, players had the chance share tips and skills with special needs kids at Matheny’s Catch 22 accessible baseball field in Chesterfield.

“Last year’s clinic was such a great event that we knew we had to bring it back,” said Rick Sems of PNC Bank. “It gives our players the chance to get involved in the community and gives the kids the opportunity to learn something that they might not otherwise try.”

Brodsky doesn’t take his skills for granted, either.

“Playing at such a high level of baseball really has made me realize how lucky I am.  There are so many people out there who aren’t given the same opportunities in life, and as long as I can make their day in some way, or put a smile on their face, it’s satisfying to me,” said Brodsky, who admires David Eckstein because “he was a middle infielder like me, we are built similarly, and he worked hard.”

For Brodsky, whose was confirmed at Congregation Shaare Emeth, being among the first Jewish players in the HSBS makes the experience that much more significant.

“If you look at professional baseball today and through history, there aren’t a lot of Jews,” he said.  “I’m not close to playing at a professional level, but being given this opportunity to play at this high level of baseball shows that anyone can make it in some way.  And despite any stereotype that may be given, there’s no harm in trying to break it.”