Armed and Smart

06/16/2009 – Daily News Record

FSU Catcher Has Brains, Skills Written By Dustin Dopirak Daily News Record Sports Desk HARRISONBURG – Parker Brunelle seems to be sculpted from the classic jock mold. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound, square-jawed Georgian played football and baseball at the Wesleyan School in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross, and his all-everything career as a high school catcher got him a scholarship to Florida State. But then there’s that major in mechanical engineering. And that spot in Florida State’s honors program. "I guess I’m kind of an undercover nerd," said Brunelle, a rising junior catcher who is playing for the Harrisonburg Turks this summer. "I’ve always grown up taking all kinds of math and physics classes. It’s kind of funny, because whenever there’s a question in the dugout or whatever, all the guys say, ‘Oh, go ask Parker, he’s the smart kid.’" Smart, as in four years on the dean’s list and honor roll in high school, and a spot on the ACC’s Academic Honor Roll as a college freshman. Brunelle has always liked figuring out the inner working of things, which is big for guys who strive to be mechanical engineers. "I guess when I was younger I was into all the Lego sets," Brunelle said. "I always loved building things with my hands and taking stuff apart. My mom would always get mad because I’d end up breaking half the stuff I took apart. Little things like that. I guess I figured if I liked playing around with stuff like that, I might as well make a career out of it." Of course, making a career out of it isn’t easy, especially if you plan on playing a sport at a Division I powerhouse – the Seminoles reached the Super Regionals this year and have been to the NCAA tournament 32 straight times. Brunelle said he’s had help, both from his professors and his team. But he’s still had his share of late nights with the books, and his studies have cost him some time at the ballfield. "That is a very difficult major and he does miss a lot of practice time," FSU assistant coach Mike Martin Jr. said by phone. "But that’s what they come to Florida State for is the education. I just don’t know how he does it." If Brunelle has his way next season, though, it will get even harder than it has been, simply because his baseball responsibilities will grow. In his first two years at FSU, Brunelle hasn’t been able to escape the backup role, and not playing in every game hasn’t helped his numbers. As a freshman behind starter Buster Posey, who left FSU after being taken in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft last year, Brunelle hit .226 with seven hits in just 31 at-bats. With Posey gone this season, the switch-hitting Brunelle had a shot at the starting job, but lost a head-to-head competition with redshirt sophomore Rafael Lopez, a junior-college transfer from Florida’s Indian River Community College. "Raffy can really, really throw," Martin, the FSU head coach’s son, said. "That was one of the things that intrigued us about him when we recruited him. We went with Raffy most of the time, and he was swinging a hot bat early in the season. He got out on the right foot and we stayed with him." Getting spotty playing time, Brunelle struggled to get a rhythm and it showed. He played in 38 of the ‘Noles’ 63 games and started just 16, batting .239 (17-for-71) with 12 runs scored and 11 RBIs. "I think one thing that’s been tough is lack of consistency," Brunelle said. "It’s kind of tough to get into a rhythm, and that’s one thing I’ve been feeling in my swing. … It makes it tough, you see a guy throwing 95 [mph], then you don’t go for a couple of days. But that’s all part of the game. That’s what I gotta deal with. That’s one thing I’m learning how to do." And that’s what this summer with the Turks is for – getting a rhythm. Brunelle is one of three catchers on the roster, and on summer leagues, managers do try to spread out the playing time. He hasn’t shown Harrisonburg much offensively so far with just one hit in eight at-bats in his first two games, but then, none of the Turks have been hitting well (they have a .209 team batting average) and Brunelle has shown Wease enough tools so far to get a fair shot. "He’s a good receiver," said Turks owner/skipper Bob Wease, whose team hosts Luray tonight. "The pitchers that threw to him like him and he’s got a cannon for an arm. I think he’s gonna do well. I think he’s gonna be one of our main catchers." Even though Lopez is still around, Martin said Brunelle will have a chance to start next year, with the competition being open in the fall. At a school like FSU, a starting job usually means a shot at the majors, and unsurprisingly, that would be Brunelle’s first choice for a post-collegiate job, but at least he knows he’ll have other options. "There are a lot of guys you worry about what they’re gonna do after their career’s over," Martin said. "Parker Brunelle’s not one of them."