ALLENTOWN, Pa.—In the span of just one year, Ben Broussard went from playing on a team where rats were running by him in the dugout to getting showered with champagne by his teammates in a clubhouse championship celebration
The odyssey for the 36-year-old Broussard, who was out of baseball since 2009 while focusing on a music career (he's recorded a few albums with original music) and raising his kids, began in the fall of 2012 in Mexico.
"It was terrible," said Broussard of his experience with Veracruz's developmental team, moments after the Storm Chasers claimed the Triple-A championship Tuesday night. "I was playing on terrible fields and taking three-hour bus rides every day to play baseball
"But I really believed in what I was doing. I was trying to get in shape and I knew if I could get in shape someone would give me a shot."
That turned out to be Veracruz, where he was playing with kids half his age. Broussard lasted there just one month before playing for Navajoa in the Mexico Pacific (winter) League.
His bat, which produced 87 home runs in a seven-year big league career with the Indians, Mariners, Blue Jays and Rangers from 2002-2008, started to come alive. Mexico City signed him to play in the Triple-A Mexican League where batted .304 in 19 games.
That was enough of a body of work for Long Island in the Atlantic League to sign Broussard this summer, which is where he got noticed by the Royals.
The lefthanded-slugging first baseman was inserted at first and wound up being named the PCL's Hitter of the Week for July 29-Aug. 4. Broussard hit. .500 in the PCL championship series.
"To have the opportunity to be here with these guys, knowing where I came from this year is very humbling," Broussard said. "This opportunity was a second chance
"I'm going to do this until they tell me I can't."
The International League's Surprise Award Winner
Heading into the 2013 season, Durham's J.D. Martin had reached double figures in wins just five times in a 13-year minor league career, the last time in 2008 when the righthander went 11-3 with Double-A Akron in the Eastern League.
This year he was an integral part of a Durham staff that set an International League record with 1,246 strikeouts and led the league in wins (87), fewest hits allowed (1,102) and ERA (3.33).
Martin, 30, a 2001 first round pick of the Indians (35th overall), went 16-4 for Durham, the most games won by a Bull in 45 years. On a staff loaded with live arms, Martin was the one selected as the IL's Most Valuable Pitcher.
"That was a cool surprise," Martin admitted. "I didn't even know they had it (award).
Durham manager Charlie Montoyo rewarded Martin by bringing him in to replace starter Jake Odorizzi in the fifth inning of the Triple-A championship game against Omaha. Martin pitched four innings, scattered five hits, walked one and allowed one run.
"You can't replace a guy like J.D. Martin on a Triple-A staff," said Durham pitching coach Neil Allen. "He's a leader on this staff and a guy the other pitchers feed off of."
Jake the Ace
When Chris Archer, Alex Torres and Alex Colome were called up to Tampa at various points in the season, Durham turned to righthander Jake Odorizzi as its ace. The 22-year-old embraced the role going 8-5, 3.73 in 18 starts. He ranked third in the IL in strikeouts (124) and WHIP (1.13).
"His fastball command came a long way," Allen said. "He just has to understand his breaking stuff a little more. He doesn't have to execute it perfectly to get by. A lot of guys would love to have a third of his stuff, but Jake's a perfectionist and that's good. He's not complacent. He'll look at arm slots, look at film and ask questions."
Kansas City Here I Come
After going 3-for-5 with the game-deciding RBI single for Omaha in the 2-1 win over Durham in the Triple-A title game, Storm Chaser shortstop Irving Falu was called into manager Mike Jirschele's office and informed he was headed to join the Royals in the Wild Card race.
The 29-year-old Falu, a 21st-round pick by the Royals in 2003, is making his second straight September appearance with the big club. In 2012, the utility infielder batted .341 in 24 games with a .371 OBP.