That Blue Monster wall in left at Evanston’s baseball field may take a beating once Brandon Brokowski gets to play there again.
For now, the ETHS senior is thriving in his home away from home at Northwestern University’s cavernous Rocky Miller Park.
Brokowski, in his third season as Evanston’s starting catcher, belted a single, double and triple Wednesday to lead the Wildkits to their first win of the spring, a 10-2 triumph over Payton Prep.
Playing on a bigger field at the courtesy of NU – which has had an artificial surface for years now – has impacted Brokowski’s power numbers. But the fact that he’s a bigger, stronger version of himself in his final season means Brokowski is a threat to go deep anywhere he plays.
By some estimates, Brokowski would already have hit 3 or 4 home runs if he batted on a high school field. Instead, he went 0-for-3 with a walk in the season-opening loss to Hersey, despite hitting a couple of bombs to the outfield at NU, before breaking through on Wednesday.
The 3-bagger he pounded to center field in the second inning Wednesday would likely have left the yard at ETHS. He was denied another potential extra base hit in the fifth, on a diving grab by Payton centerfielder Olin Hemingway, in Evanston’s final at-bat before the game was called due to darkness.
Evanston improved to 1-1 on the season and will play at least two more games at Northwestern, Thursday against Lake Forest and Friday versus Ridgewood.
No signs measuring distances down the foul lines or in the power alleys are posted at Rocky Miller Park, not even for college hitters to take aim at. But there’s no denying that Brokowski has upped his power game after embracing off-season weight training along with most of his teammates at the Michael B. Arrington Wellness & Performance Center at ETHS.
Brokowski may not win any lifting contests against his teammates like Hank Liss, Noah Cryns or Thomas Ferguson, fellow fanatics in the weight room. But opposing pitchers will find out the hard way that the Evanston catcher can make some hard contact.
“I’m 100 percent stronger than when I weighed 160 pounds coming in as a freshman,” said Brokowski, whose lifting numbers are beyond solid at 245 pounds for bench press, 355 for squats, and 415 for dead lift and now weighs a rugged 195 himself. “I think the baseball and football teams are really utilizing that new weight room now.
“I’m lifting more now in the off-season. I stopped playing soccer in the fall this year, so now I have more time to lift — and I love it. In the off-season I lifted every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The coaches put in a lifting regimen for us and to me, if you’re not lifting it shows that you’re not working very hard. It’s become part of my routine now and even though I’m not going to play (baseball) in college, I’m going to keep lifting.”
Brokowski, who bats cleanup in the ETHS order, has also benefited from a change in approach for the coaching staff. Although he’s the team’s primary catcher, he was able to get more repetitions against live (friendly) pitching in the preseason this year instead of focusing strictly on catching the veterans and varsity newcomers.
“I think because I didn’t start off too good last year (offensively), the coaches wanted me to get more live reps before the season this year,” he said. “They wanted to change things up for me. And I think I’d only have two homers if I were playing at home, the one the guy caught deep on me Monday and the triple I hit today.”
Brokowski’s hit barrage against Payton (0-2 overall under former Niles West head coach Garry Gustafson) was part of a 10-hit attack by the winners. The Kits built a 6-2 advantage after the first two innings, then broke loose for 4 more runs in the fifth thanks to pinch-hit run-scoring singles by Jonah Hofeld and James O’Connor.
On the mound, Braden Grimm, Akash Sharma and Derek Llanes fired a combined 3-hitter and struck out 11 Grizzlies.
“It’s always good to get that first win checked off,” said ETHS head coach Frank Consiglio. “Today we were back to more of who we’re trying to be as a team. And our pitchers did a great job. We know they’ve got the talent, now we’ve just got to give them as many opportunities as we can.
“The mistakes we’re making our just things we haven’t been able to practice yet (due to cold and wet spring weather). Until we get to that point, our pitching is good enough to cover up some things early on. I love our pitching!”
Brokowski banged a two-run double over the center fielder’s head to drive in a pair of runs in the first inning, and courtesy runner Addison Blough also scored on a fly ball single from Hank Liss. In the second, the Wildkits tacked on three more runs on a couple of walks, a double by Charlie Kalil, a single by Eron Vega and Brokowski’s triple.
In that frame, Kalil stole home on the back end of a successful double steal attempt, with Vega swiping second.