BATON ROUGE, La. — Albuquerque’s Alex Bregman and his LSU baseball teammates, coaches, family and friends on Monday night packed the Champions Club inside Alex Box Stadium to watch the Major League Baseball draft on one of its many large TVs.
Minutes before MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred strode to the podium to announce the second overall pick, Bregman answered a call and a grin spread across his face.
Then Manfred made it official. He announced that with the second pick, the Houston Astros selected Alex Bregman, shortstop from LSU, and the crowd of approximately 250 at the Champions Club roared.
The former Albuquerque Academy standout had become the highest-drafted player from New Mexico. The No. 2 pick has a signing bonus slot value of $7,420,100.
Bregman’s father leapt in the air and Alex, sandwiched between beaming LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri and Albuquerque Baseball Academy hitting guru Jason Columbus, jumped from his seat to hug his family, father Sam, mother Jackie, sister Jessie and brother A.J.
Guests at the party gave a rousing ovation, camera flashes went off, tears were shed. A dream had come true: Bregman is a professional baseball player.
“It’s ridiculous; it’s pretty crazy,” Bregman said. “I dreamed about it since I was 5 years old. My dad and I would play catch in the backyard, and my mom would throw me batting practice. I’ve been dreaming about this since then. It’s a dream come true. If you work hard enough, anything can happen.”
“It hasn’t really hit me yet, it’s a surreal experience.”
Less than 24 hours before the draft, Bregman celebrated in center field with his teammates as LSU swept Louisiana-Lafayette to clinch a spot in next weekend’s College World Series.
But Monday was Bregman’s party.
There was food and drinks, pizza boxes stacked high everywhere you looked. The crowd cheered every time Bregman was shown on MLB Network’s pre-draft coverage and hearty boos came from the rowdy crowd when MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds suggested Bregman might not be able to stick at shortstop at the next level.
While the crowd mingled, ate and waited, Bregman sat front row, eyes glued to the screen, cellphone in hand, waiting for his moment, which has been a long time coming.
“He had a baseball in his crib at the hospital when he was born,” Jackie Bregman said.
“It’s an honor, there’s been a lot of great players from New Mexico, a lot of my best friends, Blake Swihart and Jordan Pacheco and guys like that,” Bregman said.
Surrounded not only by teammates and coaches, many family and friends made the trek here to share in his once-in-a-lifetime experience. There was uncle Ben Bregman from Hawaii, uncle Merlin Gaspers from Santa Monica, Calif., family friend Curtis McKay from Maryland among many others.
A large group of people from New Mexico also made it to the Champions Club, including Terry Doyle, director of the Railrunner, and New Mexico State Police captain Jonathan Salazar. All that was missing from back home was green chile on the pizza.
“It means the world to me, my family is just amazing,” Bregman said. “My mom and dad are just the most loyal, encouraging, hardest-working people and I’ve learned so much from them. It’s just such an honor to have all of them here. I’m really happy, I’m at a loss for words.”
Also sharing the moment with Bregman were some of the most influential people in his early baseball career: former Albuquerque Academy head baseball coach Josh Ayala, who said Bregman has the greatest work ethic he’s ever seen, and Columbus, Mike Foote and Ryan Brewer from the Albuquerque Baseball Academy.
“It’s the only reason I’m here today is that support system I’ve had,” Bregman said. “Coach Ayala at Academy was unbelievable, you couldn’t ask for a better high school baseball coach. The Albuquerque Baseball Academy changed baseball in Albuquerque. They are the reason this was possible today.”
Bregman starred at Academy, hitting over .600 in his junior year with 19 home runs. But a finger injury wiped out most of his senior campaign. That injury caused him to slide to the 29th round of the 2012 draft, where the Boston Red Sox made him the 901st overall pick.
The impact he made in Baton Rouge also came off the field. In attendance at the draft party was LSU superfan George Wood, a 13-year-old with muscular dystrophy. But Bregman is also a fan of Wood’s, having gone to several of his Miracle League games over the years.
And what drew Wood to Bregman?
“Just how nice he was and how awesome of an athlete he was,” Wood said. “I’m sad to see him go but I’m super excited for him.”
LSU freshman outfielder Beau Jordan shares that excitement.
“He’s a great guy and he’s a great leader in the locker room and on the field,” Jordan said. “I’m really glad for him because he’s prepared for this moment his whole life.”
But before he worries about signing with the Astros, Bregman is going to Omaha to try to cap his collegiate career with a national title.
“This is fun. We’re going to celebrate with my family and friends,” he said, “but then it’s back to the grind. It’s back to trying to win a national championship.”