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Captain USA

PHOTO COURTESY GREGG FORWERCK/USA BASEBALLALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Academy junior Alex Bregman earns coveted baseball honor

 

Alex Bregman is one of a kind as a baseball player.

The Albuquerque Academy junior earned the distinction Thursday when he became the first high school player ever to win the USA Baseball Richard W. “Dick” Case Player of the Year Award.

Bregman, 16, joins an impressive list of award winners including Stephen Strasburg (the 2008 winner) and Ryan Zimmerman (2004) of the Washington Nationals, Justin Smoak (2009) of the Seattle Mariners and Ben Sheets (2000) of the Oakland Athletics.

Each of those athletes won his award in college or as a professional.

“The first high school-age player to win the award, that’s pretty overwhelming,” says Albuquerque Baseball Academy owner Ryan Brewer, whose facility has given instruction to Bregman since the pupil was 7 years old. “Winning the award pretty much says he’s the best 16-year-old player in the world — or at least this half of the world.”

Bregman, son of prominent attorney and New Mexico Thunderbirds owner Sam Bregman, won the award based on his performance for the USA Baseball 16U team during its gold-medal run at the COPABE “AA”/Pan American Baseball Championships in Lagos de Mareno, Mexico, in October.

The younger Bregman, who played second base, hit .564 (22-for-39) with two home runs, 17 RBIs and 17 run scored in nine games — all wins — for Team USA.

Despite Thursday’s award, Bregman still lists his national team’s tournament victory in Mexico as his most cherished accomplishment.

“First, I’d rank the gold medal and winning that with the guys,” Bregman says. “That was the ultimate goal for me; it was the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life, running into that dog pile knowing that we just won the gold medal.”

His coaches, however, say they relish Bregman’s Player of the Year Award because of his work ethic.

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Bregman, who plays primarily shortstop for the Chargers, isn’t equipped with the imposing physique of a Strasburg or Smoak — both listed as 6-4, 220. Zimmerman is 6-3, 228.

“You see that he’s not a real big kid,” says Eric Kibler, his 16U national team coach who earned National Coach of the Year honors Thursday. “He’s a kid who can’t take a day off, can’t take a pitch off. That peer pressure, the other players (on the national team) attach to his work ethic. The way he goes about his business, he’s going to be successful in everything he’s doing.”

Bregman says he’s loved baseball his entire life, fueling his desire to play well.

“It’s always been my passion,” he says. “I try to play as hard as I can all the time.”

Chargers coach Josue Ayala says pro scouts compare Bregman to current Boston Red Sox infielder Dustin Pedroia, the 2008 American League MVP who is listed at 5-9, 180.

“He’s the next Bregman,” Ayala says, suggesting that Bregman is molded in the shape of no particular player. “His work ethic is phenomenal. He always feels he can get better. He always stays hungry.”

Those scouts will be hungry for Bregman’s services when he finishes high school. He says he’s not even thinking that far ahead. He wants to help the Chargers rebound from a first-round exit in last spring’s 4A state tournament. Academy won the title in 2009.

“Definitely, we’ve got a chip on our shoulder,” he says. “We’re going to work our butts off and hopefully get back to the state championship game and win it.”

That attitude has helped Bregman set himself apart with Thursday’s award. Sam Bregman says it’s his son’s success that will be the basis of comparisons for players that follow him.

“It shows that a young man, if he really works hard at his dream, can accomplish it,” Sam Bregman says. “I’m a proud papa.”

 

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