By Joshua Young
In 2005, the Chicago White Sox drafted North Tonawanda native Ricky Brooks in the third round of the Major League Baseball draft.
It’s now 2008, and Brooks is still working his way to the major leagues.
“My progress has been slow and steady. I’m not moving up quick. It’s just level to level, trying to work on things,” he said. “People don’t understand if you were a decent college player, you might not get past Class A.”
Brooks was a decent college pitcher at East Carolina University, where he tossed the first nine-inning no-hitter in Conference USA history.
But it’s not just baseball Brooks has to deal with; it’s the mental and physical aspect of the game that can be draining.
“Physically, 140 games in 150 days, I don’t know if that many people know how many games we play,” the 2003 graduate of North Tonawanda High School said. “Mentally, you’re away from your friends, and you have a bad game and it just gets on you. Its just long, long days and it’s just a grind.”
Brooks often feels pressure to succeed, not only for a city and a college, but for himself.
“There’s a lot of pressure. I want to do well for North Tonawanda, but at the same time I want to do well for myself. I’m also representing my college,” he said. “I probably put pressure on myself, though, because I just want to go out and do good every time, and hopefully eventually make it to the major leagues.”
Brooks has the opportunity to do something not many people have, and when he comes home, he has to answer questions about his progress to friends and family.
“I come back home and people are asking me what’s going on, and I’m like, ‘I’m still in Class A Advanced.’ ‘They’re like how come you’re not in the majors?’ Brooks said. “I just tell them, it’s not as easy as you think.”
Rick Books, Ricky’s father, has seen first-hand the talent in Class A Advanced.
“These kids are all great baseball players. I don’t care what level they’re at, but they all have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s your job as a professional to figure out what they are,” Rick Brooks said. “It’s a learning game.”
Last season, Ricky Brooks began the year with the Class A Kannapolis Intimidators, but was called up to the Class A Advanced Winston Salem Warthogs, where he found a niche as a reliever.
As a starter with the Intimidators in 2006, he posted a record of 8-11 with a 5.78 ERA, and led his team in wins and games started.
Brooks pitched 25 2/3 innings and 1.93 ERA in 15 games with the Warthogs in 2007 from the bullpen and wanted to build on his 2007 success this season.
Unfortunately for Brooks an injury to the pitching staff forced him to become a starting pitcher for a couple of starts, but he is back in the bullpen now.
“I used to be a starter in college, but my two starts haven’t gone that well,” he said. “I played real well in Class A Advanced at the end of the season (2007) and expected to do well this year, but it’s still early.”
In his two starts he is 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA in eight innings pitched. In two relief appearances this season Brooks has allowed just four hits in three innings, and hasn’t allowed a run.
The difference between his struggles as a starter and his success as a reliever is his concentration level on the mound, he said.
“I’ve had coach talk to me about this. I will forget about my game plan when I’m starting,” Brooks said. “Out of the bullpen you’re only throwing one or two innings, and I’ll come out of the game not allowing any runs, and I’m happy with that.”
The plan for this season is to play half the season with the Warthogs and half with the Double-A Birmingham Barons, said Brooks.
With all this on his plate, it’s easy to forget he is only 23 years old.
“To his (Ricky) credit he’s always made the difficult decision to put himself in a position to succeed. Leaving North Tonawanda for East Carolina wasn’t easy, but you’ve got to go where you have the best opportunity to improve,” Rick Brooks said.