By Mark Brown (B51 Photography) - Shore Sports Network contributor
The inspiring stories of former Freehold Township and Monmouth University standout pitcher Brad Brach, a 42nd-round draft pick who made it to the Major Leagues, and former Manalapan and Rutgers University star outfielder David DeJesus, now entering his 13th big-league season, continue this summer as the Major League Baseball season gets underway on Sunday night.
Shore Sports Network caught up with Brach and DeJesus in spring training as the 2015 MLB season gets set to kick off. There is a chance the two former Shore Conference stars could face off right away, as the Orioles start the season at Tampa Bay on Monday.
SSN: How is everything going this year in Spring Training and what is the season outlook for you?
DeJesus: Right now, things are going great. As usual, these early days for spring training are about getting my legs under me and getting my timing. As I play each game, I am feeling more confident, and it's just seeing more reps hitting, seeing the pitches and getting more reps in the outfield.
SSN: As the most successful Shore Conference graduate in Major League Baseball, do you have any advice for the kids back home on breaking into the Major Leagues?
DeJesus: It's a tough road. You have to put a lot of work in. My dad pushed me when I was growing up. We were always doing something with baseball, like we would be in the basement when it was cold out doing some hitting. I also advise being well-rounded and playing other sports as well. Basketball helped me out with my agility and things like that. Also, remember it's a baseball game - there are fun times out on the field. It can be such a negative game at times. It's important to remember it's fun, too.
SSN: What gets you pumped up before a game?
DeJesus: Anything from Lecrae's "Anomaly" album. (Teammate) Chris Archer was playing it this morning, and I got a sweat going listening to that one at 8 in the morning.\
SSN: Do you get back to New Jersey often? When was the last time you were back home?
DeJesus: I usually like to get back at least once or twice every offseason for three or four days. My parents still live in the same house that I grew up in. It's cool to get home and see friends and family.
SSN: You were a 42nd-round draft pick who made it to the big leagues. What advice do you have for other Shore stars facing long odds of making it to Major League Baseball?
Brach: Just work hard and have fun. There are going to be a lot of people who say you can't do it, or that you have long odds against you, but keep working hard and the rest will take care of itself.
SSN: How do you see your role in the Orioles' bullpen this season?
Brach: I am hoping for the set-up role, but I am not really sure at this exact point. It will probably be wherever they need me. Long relief, set-up man, we will see. Somewhere in that situation.
SSN: What has been the most memorable experience of your pro career so far?
Brach: Last year when we won the AL East and went to the playoffs. That atmosphere was pretty awesome and something I will never forget.
SSN: How have things been going with your younger brother Brett's pro career, and what advice have you given him? (Editor's note: Brett Brach was drafted in the 10th round by the Cleveland Indians as a pitcher out of Monmouth University in 2009)
Brach: It was going pretty well up until last year. He ran into a little bit of a shoulder injury. He is actually helping out with coaching at Monmouth University at the moment. I just told him if he still has the desire to play and still wants it to just keep going after it. I have always told him what I have told everybody - just keep working hard. There are going to be obstacles along the way that you are going to have to go over.
SSN: What was it like coming back to Freehold Township and having your wife (country singer Jenae Cherry) sing the national anthem at a basketball game this winter?
Brach: It was very cool. I still take to (Freehold Township boys basketball coach) Brian Golub and (baseball coach/basketball assistant) Todd Smith all the time. To have her be able to come back and be at a game was a lot of fun. I haven't been to a game since I helped coach in 2010. It was awesome, and then having her sing the national anthem was great. They won as well, which always helps. It was really fun.
SSN: What is it like living in Nashville compared to the Jersey Shore? How do you and your wife find time together when you both have careers requiring some travel?
Brach: It's a little different. It's not as bad as I thought. Obviously the music industry brings in people from all over the world, especially the country music industry. Luckily since we've been married, she hasn't had to travel as much, so that's been good. It's just one of those things that's similar to baseball where it's a dream she has, and I keep telling her to go for it.
SSN: Any chance you connect with Eric Decker from the New York Jets to seek out advice? (Editor's note: Decker is married to country singer Jessie James)
Brach: I have not had a chance to meet him, but we have watched the reality show. My wife really loves that show. I would love to meet him. He seems like a cool guy.
SSN - A clip of Coach Golub and Coach Smith cheering you on at Camden Yards last year became an online hit. What was your reaction to seeing all that and having them down there?
Brach: That was fun. I knew they were in the stands, and I can always hear Golub. He was pretty loud, and he has that voice that's pretty deep. I can always tell it's him. I have heard him yell a few times. After the game I walked into the clubhouse and I had all the scouts clubhouse attendants telling me they were going nuts, and video guys telling me they were going crazy. I know they had a great time, and it was awesome having them there.
SSN: All of New Jersey wants to know - Monmouth Mall or Freehold Mall? (Editor's note: C'mon Mark, he went to Freehold Township).
Brach: Freehold Mall, no question.
SSN: When Mariano Rivera entered the game his famous song was "Enter Sandman" by Metallica. What is the Brad Brach song when you enter the game, and what are you currently listening to on your iPod that gets you amped up?
Brach: I have used the Linkin Park song from the "Transformers" movie. I have been using that mostly in the minors. As for the majors, I haven't picked one just yet. As for my iPod, I have a bunch of everything on there. Right now a lot of Bruce Springsteen.
SSN: Lacrosse is becoming a very popular sport right now with the kids. A lot of time we hear parents and kids say that baseball is too long or too boring to play. What advice would you give parents to say to stick with baseball?
Brach: Baseball is America's pastime. It's always going to be one of America's favorite sports. It's really not boring. You just have to learn the game. For a lot of people, learning the intricacies of the game is a little bit difficult, but if you talk to anyone, it's a generational sport. Fathers pass it on to sons. It's just one of those things, where I think lacrosse is a little bit of a fad at the moment. That's just how I feel, and baseball is always going to be there. Baseball is fun - you just have to give it a chance.
SSN: If you could change anything about the game of baseball what would it be?
Brach: I would take away the designated hitter. I know everyone wants the DH, but I just like the pitchers hitting. I think it's the way the game was meant to be played. It also gives pitchers a chance to show off a little with hitting.
SSN: You often hear about pitchers being connected with certain catchers on the team. Is there one catcher you like to work with or do you work with all of them?
Brach: I am pretty flexible with that aspect. I can work with all of them. Last year I didn't know any of them when I was traded to Baltimore (from San Diego), and I have had to adjust to working with the guys on the team. Last year, Caleb Joseph was a catcher that I worked with in Triple-A when I first got here, so when he got called up, we were definitely on the same page from there.
SSN: What are the craziest things you have witnessed during your time in the big leagues? Anything you have encountered that made you laugh or stick out in your mind?
Brach: Oh boy, the fans in Oakland sometimes - there are some outrageous fans out there, especially in the outfield. Also in Wrigley Field, especially in the outfield, they get hold of your personal information and let you hear about it, especially if you strike out. There isn't anything specific from an individual fan, but those two stadiums, those fans are really into it and loud in the outfield.