VISTA — Vista-raised southpaw Gavin Brooks is on his way to the big leagues, having been drafted by the Staten Island Yankees after three years as a pitcher with the UCLA Bruins.
Brooks has been drawn to the sport ever since he first, as a toddler, picked up a racquetball racquet and a tennis ball. A star in Little League and middle school, Brooks graduated from Rancho Buena Vista in 2006 with a .375 hitting average and a pitching record that landed him a scholarship at UCLA.
In late June, after a hot season pitching in 27 games, Brooks ended the school year with a $125,000 signing bonus to play with the Yankees’ short-season minor league team. He spent just three days visiting his family in Vista before flying off to Tampa Bay for training.
Professional baseball, even at the lowest level, is a lot different from playing for a college, Brooks said. Instead of splitting time between classes and playing, Brooks is entirely focused on baseball.
“I get up, hit the field at noon, play baseball all day until midnight,” he said. “Then I go to bed, wake up (and) do it all over again. It’s baseball all the time. It’s what I want to do.”
As of July 9, Brooks had pitched eight of 19 games played, allowing no earned runs. The season will last 75 games and end in early September. His team has done well at home, earning a 7-2 record, but has been trounced on the road, winning just one game. Ironically, Brooks said the competition offered by the minor leagues is lower than what he faced in college, at least for now.
“The competition in college is pretty good, especially in the Top 10,” he said. “This level of baseball is maybe slightly below … largely because it’s a lot of younger guys — Dominican players with less experience and people out of high school who haven’t played much ball yet.”
Of course, the short-season A team constitutes the bottom rung of a series of Yankee-owned teams. Above it are the other franchises Brooks hopes to advance into: the Single A Charleston River Dogs, the Tampa Yankees Advanced A, then Trenton Thunder AA followed by AAA ball with Scranton Wilkes-Barre. At the top is the major league franchise New York Yankees.
“(Staten Island) is just the beginning of a long road,” SI Yankees marketing coordinator John McCutchan said. “We’re one step above rookie ball. This is their first taste of professional baseball. They come here and they get to see what it’s like to play in front of 5,000 to 7,000 fans.”
When the summer season wraps up, Brooks plans to finish the two remaining quarters needed to earn his economics degree at UCLA. His hopes are high, however, that he will be pitching for the New York Yankees within the next four years. McCutchan said his chances are pretty good.
“We’ve had quite a few guys make it to the major leagues,” McCutchan said. “Over the course of the years, we’ve been fortunate enough to see some great talent here.”
If he makes it, it will represent the fulfillment of a family dream. His mother, Terri Brooks, recounted how her father grew up on a farm in Missouri and desperately wanted to get away from home. He wowed the scouts at a Kansas City baseball tryout and had the chance to sign onto a Yankees farm league team. Instead, he joined the Navy and moved to San Diego. Now, his missed chance is his grandson’s.
“I bet my dad is looking down and smiling right now,” Terri Brooks said.