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Fan buzz builds for new Pickle
Bruce Barnum coaches football for Portland State, but the first sport he introduced sons Brody and Cooper to was baseball.
"As soon as they could walk, we bought two things — a gun safe, and a bucket of Wiffle Balls," Barnum says. "I always had a bucket and a bat in the back of my truck, and whenever we'd see an open field, I'd yell 'Bucket!'
"They'd sprint out of the car, and I'd throw them each a bucket of Wiffle Balls. And then we'd finish driving wherever we were going."
Brody grew up to be a two-sport star in baseball and football, as the quarterback, at Skyview High in Vancouver, Washington.
Now he's a freshman outfielder/pitcher at Washington State (PSU doesn't have baseball).
And starting this week, he'll be a member of the Portland Pickles, who are entering their third year overall and first season in the West Coast League. The Pickles open WCL play at home at Walker Stadium on Friday night against the Port Angeles Lefties.
Brody's summer assignment will give his dad a rare chance to catch many of his games.
And the Pickles hope having Brody aboard will generate more "fan buzz," says general manager Gregg Swenson.
Brody says Portland is the right spot for him at this point in his college baseball career.
"It's a great fan base in the city of Portland, it's growing, it's a new team and it's at home. It's the best opportunity for me," he says. "I'll get to see my mom all the time and sleep in my own bed rather than being across the country. I'll get to spend time with my entire family. It's the greatest gift I could have received."
Brody hears there is a buzz about his pending arrival in the athletic offices at Portland State.
"I grew up with those people and everyone else in the athletic department," he says. "I'm sure throughout the summer there will always be familiar faces at the ballpark."
The question is, how will the Pickles use him?
Brody says his goal is to get better as both an outfielder and pitcher. This season, he had allowed 13 hits and 10 earned runs in 10 1/3 relief innings for WSU (16-33-1). At the plate, he was 4 for 9 with two doubles and two RBIs, going 2 for 2 with a run-scoring double against No. 4 national playoff seed Stanford in his last plate appearances.
Cougars coach Marty Lees says Brody has a chance to be a top-two outfielder and command more innings for WSU in 2019.
"Right now, I couldn't tell you if he's going to be the best pitcher we have or the best outfielder we have," Lees says. "We just want him to do both. It would be negligent of our program to not utilize that talent as much as possible."
Bruce Barnum helped Brody prepare for what a major college's weightlifting programs and general school expectations would look like, but otherwise, "he left me on my own," Brody says. That includes Brody's choice of what sport to play and which school to attend.
"He just wanted me to be happy and successful in whatever I chose," Brody says.
Brody arrived in Pullman, Washington, last year with an above-average fastball, a 6-3, 215-pound frame, and lots to learn about being a Division I athlete and teammate.
Bruce Barnum, who played baseball with WSU pitching coach Dan Spencer when they were at Vancouver's Columbia River High, says he knew the Cougars coaches would provide his son with a tough, no-nonsense approach.
The Cougs had three experienced senior outfielders back for the 2018 season. And, on the mound, Brody had to compete with a slew of other freshmen relievers.
He struggled early as a pitcher, but Lees stuck with him in Pac-12 play, and Brody didn't allow a run in two May relief appearances against No. 2 Oregon State.
He is mixing in a slider and changeup to go with the fastball.
At the plate, he says he has benefited from working in the cages with outfielders Justin Harrer and Blake Clanton, who are among the top 10 in the Pac-12 in home runs.
Lees and Spencer told the Pickles that Brody's arm is fresh.
"For a West Coast League team, a lot of times you get kids who have pitched 40 to 50, maybe 60 innings, and they're in a limited role on the mound for the summer," Lees says. "For Brody, it's as many innings as we can get him on the mound and as many at-bats as possible."
Brody was slated to play for Gresham before the GreyWolves went from the WCL to independent status. He says he is prepared to play for either team this summer.
One thing he grew up with was learning to adjust as his dad coached as an offensive coordinator at Idaho State, Cornell and Portland State.
Brody had to move across the country twice while growing up. Sports were a constant for him, though, and that included hockey. He says it was all football and hockey while his father was at Cornell from 2007-09.
The Barnums moved to Vancouver when Brody was 12 and Cooper was 9. In 2010, with Bruce hired to be the Vikings' O-coordinator, Brody picked up a baseball and began playing in Little League.
Bruce Barnum, like other college football coaches, always is at the mercy of the all-important recruiting schedule. But he and Brody took advantage of any free time Bruce had.
"I still remember the days he'd throw batting practice to me and my brother in our batting cage back home," Brody says.
Bruce worked with Brody in football and baseball, but says he didn't emphasize one sport over the other.
"I taught him how to hit and how to long snap. After that, he was ready to go play," Bruce says. "I didn't try to pressure him. He could play the piano if he wanted."
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