Brackman starting over with hometown Reds

Brackman starting over with hometown Reds

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Some have joked this spring that the Reds have enough tall pitchers in camp to field a basketball team. There are seven of them who stand over 6-foot-5.

None are taller than 6-foot-10 reliever Andrew Brackman, a Cincinnati-area native who has already lived life on an elite college basketball team. From 2005-06, he played for North Carolina State in the Atlantic Coast Conference against the likes of Duke and North Carolina. As a freshman, he played in the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament.

"My freshman year, we played the North Carolina national championship team with Sean May, Raymond Felton, Marvin Williams and Rashad McCants," Brackman said.

Brackman averaged 7.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in two seasons. Not all the memories were great, however, as a flashback came once teammate Ryan Ludwick arrived at his locker, one over from Brackman's.

"I'm a big Carolina fan, by the way," Ludwick said. "I don't want to bring up a bad memory, but I remember the Reyshawn Terry dunk."

Brackman was once "posterized" in a game by UNC's Terry, essentially being on the wrong end of a dunk while trying to play defense.

"Oh man, I can't escape that," Brackman said as he and Ludwick laughed. "I got it pretty bad."

By his junior year, Brackman dropped basketball to focus solely on baseball, and he hasn't looked back since.

"It was the summer in the Cape Cod League that really made up my mind," Brackman said. "I think I made the right decision. There are [6-foot-11] guys all over the NBA and there's not many here. I definitely could have played in Europe. The NBA, I didn't think, would be a long shot. It's funny because I've always been a late bloomer. I only gave basketball two years in college. I think it would have been different if I had played those last two. But I am pretty happy with my decision. I've never had any problems with my knees, just the elbow."

Brackman had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow just days after the Yankees made him the 30th pick in the first round of the 2007 First-Year Draft. It didn't stop New York from signing the right-hander to a four-year, $3.35 million Major League contract.

Today, the 26-year-old Brackman -- a graduate of Moeller High School in Cincinnati -- is trying to start over with his hometown team. He signed a one-year, $500,000 contract with the Reds in December after the Yankees declined his 2012 option.

In three Minor League seasons, Brackman went 15-29 with a 5.11 ERA. He made only three Major League appearances for New York last September, all scoreless.

"It's a new setting but it actually feels very comfortable," Brackman said. "It feels natural, to tell you the truth, to be in this clubhouse around these guys. It hasn't been that hard to blend in."

As he grew up in West Chester, Ohio, 30 minutes from downtown Cincinnati, Brackman often frequented Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field to see Reds games.

"I remember Eric Davis, Reggie Sanders, Dante Bichette and those guys," Brackman said.

Brackman also saw Brett Tomko during his first stint with the Reds. Tomko is back as a non-roster player this spring. Brackman once did to Tomko what Ludwick did to him.

"I remember going to a game with Tomko pitching," Brackman said. "[Sammy] Sosa hit a monster home run off of him. Tomko reminded me of that when he got here. He thought it was pretty funny. We had been in camp with the Yankees and I told him about that then."

Brackman, who was a starter most of his pro and college career, is seeking a bullpen role with the Reds. He transitioned from starter to reliever in the midst of last season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre and Reds scouts liked the results.

Reds manager Dusty Baker never had a pitcher of Brackman's size before, with one exception.

"Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a celebrity game," Baker said of the 7-foot-2 NBA great. "I've got a picture of Kareem on my wall with a baseball uniform on. They tried to get both of us but they cut the top of his head off."

The Reds have been trying to refine Brackman's delivery. Because of his size, there are a lot of moving parts.

"Randy Johnson was like that too in the beginning," Baker said. "You figure with the height and your delivery is off a degree or two, it's all it takes to be in and out of the strike zone."

"It needs to be simple and compact and I just have to be able to repeat it," Brackman said of his delivery.

Brackman has a Minor League option left and that, along with the current depth of the Reds' bullpen, could make landing a spot a challenge.

That was of no large concern to the pitcher in the early days of Spring Training.

"It doesn't matter where I start the season," Brackman said. "It matters where I finish."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.