ST. PETERSBURG — Any Rays player would have been embraced and celebrated for the command performance Mike Brosseau delivered in New York last week, responding to Aroldis Chapman’s 101 mph fastball at his head by hitting two homers the next night against the Yankees to spark one of their biggest wins of the season.
But the fact that it was Brosseau made it even more special.
Brosseau, 26, is one of the most well-liked players on the Rays, admired for the determination it took to make it to the majors as an undrafted free agent and appreciated for the energy and positivity he brings on a daily basis.
Blake Snell calls him “my dawg.” Tyler Glasnow considers him “a really good dude.”
“I’m the biggest fan of Mike Brosseau of anyone,” veteran centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. "Everyone loves him. He comes in the clubhouse every day and he has the ability to make people smile and he just has that fun energy about him.
“I told him a couple weeks ago, ‘Please don’t ever lose that, because it’s something where you really do lighten a room, and it’s not easy to do that.' He’s so easy to root for. ... Him being a non-drafted free agent, he had to do all the little things right to make it here, but now he’s flourishing in his role.”
Brosseau’s contributions off the field are much appreciated, manager Kevin Cash said: “He’s super positive and he’s got a ton of energy. His intangibles are as impressive as any guy we have on our roster."
Brosseau (BRAH-so) enjoys that role, as he showed when he started leading pregame toasts during last season’s push for the playoffs by pouring a shot of Red Bull into cups as his mates gathered in the dugout.
He says he’s always been the kind of guy who relishes being part of a team, showing his Indiana roots in praising “Mama and Papa Bross" for raising him right.
But he also makes it clear he wants to be known for more.
Brosseau’s story of playing his way to the big leagues after being passed over 1,216 times in the 2016 draft coming out of Michigan’s Oakland University and signing with the Rays for $1,000 with a promise of no more than a roster spot on the Gulf Coast League team is a good one, the kind of cute little tale of inspiration and determination that Disney or Hallmark could do well with.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about it on my end,” Brosseau said. "It’s tough, because it’s a great story, but it’s not the story that I want to end this way. I don’t want to be just the undrafted guy that makes it to the big leagues. I want to be a guy that contributes, and I want to be a guy that kind of sticks around for a long time, and be an impact player..”
Brosseau showed some signs of doing that in three stints with the Rays last season. He hit .273 with six homers, 16 RBIs and a .781 OPS in 132 at-bats over 51 games and started at third base in the win-or-go-home American League wild-card game at Oakland.
He’s had an even bigger role in this pandemic-delayed and abbreviated season, hitting .316-5-10-1.014 in 57 at-bats over 26 games while starting at first, second and third base, plus leftfield. He’s also played in right taken ground balls at shortstop, filled in on the mound in a blowout and, unofficially, served as the emergency catcher.
“He’s so important to our team and what he’s been able to do this year,” Cash said. “You can plug him in anywhere and know you’re going to get really good defense.”
Brosseau has grown into the super utility role the Rays first made popular with Ben Zobrist more than a decade ago. He jokes that he now needs a bag to hold the five-six gloves he carries on a daily basis but is serious about the increased opportunity his defensive versatility provides.
Just don’t suggest that he might be satisfied with what he’s accomplished.
“'Satisfied' is a strong word, and I don’t think I ever want to play satisfied,” he said. “I think that mentality and that kind of chip on my shoulder is what makes me me on the field.”
Which brings us back to last week.
Tuesday’s drama could have shaken Brosseau, between the real danger of having a pitch thrown dangerously close to his head and the glare of being in the center of the postgame confrontation, amplified by the New York stage.
Instead, it stirred him, tapping into the competitiveness that got him to this point. After speaking up during a Wednesday afternoon team meeting about the need to focus on the game rather than revenge, he led the way, striding to the plate in the first inning and launching the first of the two homers that served as his reply.
Brosseau understandably enjoyed his trip around the bases, then returned to the dugout where his teammates gave him a loud and emotional reception — some, bench coach Matt Quatraro said, with tears in their eyes.
“It was super special,” Brosseau said. “The way the team went about it is something I’ll never forget, for sure. … That’ll go down as a memorable moment. I don’t know if it’s top-five, top-10 moment on the list yet, but it will definitely be on the list at the end of the career.”