ORONO – In two weeks, when Brad Hertzler is selected in the major league baseball amateur draft for the second time in three years, he’ll say a special “thank you” to his father Wayne.
Hertzler, a rugged pitcher from East Providence, R.I., has spent his junior season at the University of Maine. Today, he’ll get the start when the fourth-seeded Black Bears open the America East Championship against No. 1 Binghamton in a 12:05 p.m. contest at Farmingdale State College (N.Y.).
“It’s awesome. I’m glad we got this far,” said Hertzler, an All-America East second-team choice. “It should be exciting.”
Like most dads, Wayne Hertzler worked with Brad to help him develop his baseball skills. However, he went a step further than most to improve his son’s potential.
“He always walked around with a tennis ball,” the younger Hertzler explained. “They say if I picked it up with my right hand, he’d slap it out of my right hand and put it in my left.”
With left-handed pitchers always a hot commodity, Brad Hertzler now understands the implications of that process.
“I do everything right-handed besides throw,” he said, including writing, eating, and kicking a ball. “My right arm’s stronger than my left. It’s weird.”
Hertzler has made good use of his only left-handed skill. After two years at junior colleges in Florida and Rhode Island, he has emerged as a solid Division I pitcher.
He takes a 4-4 record and a 3.38 ERA into the postseason. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder has allowed only 59 hits and has struck out 66 in 66 2/3 innings.
“He goes out there and he competes,” said UMaine coach Steve Trimper. “He’s always going to give it his best and he’s always going to keep you in games. He’s an absolute bulldog.”
Hertzler, who spent last year at the Community College of Rhode Island, is 3-2 with a 2.78 ERA in league games. AE batters are hitting a paltry .189 against him.
The 21-year-old comes from good stock. His older brother Barry, 26, is a right-handed reliever with the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
Brad has spent a lifetime emulating his brother. The relationship has been critical in the younger Hertzler’s development as a pitcher and a competitor.
“He’s been unbelievable. He prepares me for everything before I go into it,” Brad said. “He’s a huge part of my pitching, my mentality, everything.”
But the kid brother has one key advantage.
“He got the size, he’s like 6-3, but luckily I got the left arm,” Brad said with a smile.
Hertzler is appreciative of the guidance and support he has received from both his father, a former Pennsylvania high school football standout, and his brother.
He had no delusions after being selected, as a high school senior, by the Red Sox in the 32nd round of the 2004 draft.
“I didn’t think I was mentally and physically mature enough to play professional baseball at that time, so I decided to go to juco [junior college] to try and have my body and my mentality mature.”
Hertzler continues to refine his skills. He features a fastball in the 88-90 mph range, along with a cut fastball, a changeup, and an occasional curve. He began throwing the cutter, which acts like a slider, last fall.
“His pitch that’s going to keep him playing beyond the college level is the cutter he has,” Trimper said. “That’s a devastating pitch that he throws.”
Hertzler expects to be drafted again in two weeks. Pro scouts have showed up at every game he pitches and recently have begun calling him to find out what it might take, financially, to sign him.
All the attention, and help from his dad and brother, appear to have conditioned Hertzler to shrug off any adversity he might encounter.
“He controls his emotions extremely well,” Trimper said. “He believes when he takes that mound, he’s the best player in the park.”
While excited about playing pro ball, Hertzler refuses to look too far ahead.
“I’ve got to get my team a win on Thursday night,” he said. “I can’t be thinking about what’s going to happen on June 7th, especially things that I don’t have any control over. I’ve got a commitment right here first to the Black Bears, and my teammates, to keep doing my job and try as hard as I can to get wins.”