VIERA, Fla. - Brian Broderick said he was speechless, but that’s not true. He had plenty to say after coming back down the hall to the Nationals clubhouse from manager Jim Riggleman’s office, which he’d entered wondering if he was going to get cut, only to find out he had made the Nationals’ big league roster.
No, the effect of the news on Broderick was a joy so real it became physically debilitating. Quivering with excitement, the big right-hander couldn’t even pronounce the word “speechless.”
It came out as “speechess.”
“Just to know all the hard work I’ve done and everything is paying off, I’m a big leaguer now,” Broderick said. “It’s kind of weird to say, but that’s what it is now.”
For all the routine and monotony of the baseball season, for all the inconsequential things that happen at spring training, there’s occasionally a story like Broderick’s. The Nationals took the pitcher from the St. Louis Cardinals in the second round of last December’s Rule 5 draft, and he came to big league camp as such an afterthought, many in the organization didn’t think he had much of a shot to crack the team’s talented bullpen.
But as the spring unfolded, just enough things broke in Broderick’s favor. Elvin Ramirez, the hard-throwing right-hander whom the Nationals took in the first round of the Rule 5 draft, was shelved with shoulder troubles. Henry Rodriguez, another flamethrowing righty that came to Washington from Oakland in the Josh Willingham trade, couldn’t throw strikes and eventually landed on the disabled list with neck problems. All that opened a door for Broderick, who’d never pitched above Double-A, and he took it mostly by throwing the snot out of the ball.
He fashioned a 2.45 ERA this spring - which was below 1.00 until he got tagged for four runs in an inning Sunday - and walked just two batters in 14 2/3 innings. At the end of the spring, the Nationals found they couldn’t keep him off the roster.
“He was probably a longshot,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “He really opened a lot of eyes here.”
Broderick’s role in the Nationals’ bullpen will be modest at first; he’ll probably work mostly when the team is ahead or behind by a big margin, and since Chad Gaudin has already claimed the long relief role, Broderick might not get more than an inning at a time. But the Nationals are clearly invested in the 24-year-old; they have to keep him in the majors all year or offer him back to the Cardinals before sending him to the minors, and he could wind up being a starter in the future. He only throws in the low 90s at best, but he generates ground balls, which the Nationals love, and pounds the strike zone.
When he got out of Riggleman’s office, Broderick first called his girlfriend, who quickly updated her Facebook status with the good news. That spread to his Facebook page, and within minutes, his phone was lighting up with text messages and posts on his Facebook wall. He didn’t notice right away, though, because after calling his girlfriend, he quickly dialed his mother.
“I kind of played a joke on her. I was like, ‘Mom, I’m coming home to Phoenix,’” Broderick said. “She was like, ‘What? Why?’ I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll be there in June to play the Diamondbacks.’ She started crying, and that was the end of the conversation, because I couldn’t get another word out.”
His girlfriend and her son will be in Washington to see Broderick introduced with the rest of the Nationals team in Thursday’s opener. His parents won’t be, though, because airline tickets were $1,200 and they didn’t know a week ago if it’d be worth going.
“They’ll probably order the MLB package and watch it every day,” Broderick said. “They won’t really have a choice.”
The ride, for Broderick, could go plenty of places from here. He could be at the start of a long career in Washington, but when Rodriguez comes off the disabled list, the team will have to clear a roster spot for him somehow. It doesn’t figure that they’d drop Broderick quickly after using a roster spot to keep him in the majors, but the only way to guarantee that won’t happen is by pitching well.
Any scenario like that is probably weeks off, though. And after working this long to get to the majors, going from Mesa Community College to Grand Canyon University, signing as a 21st-round pick of the Cardinals in 2007 and toiling through four season in the minors, Broderick isn’t looking much past Thursday, when his dream will finally be reality.
“From when I was 5 years old and my dad put me in baseball, and worked with me from then until now, everybody that’s worked with me, who knows how many times I’ve been pushed by somebody?” Broderick said. “It’s going to be unreal.”