Second Chance

Former minor leaguer heads to college diamond

C.J. Bressoud's long wait is finally at an end.

When the former Braves minor leaguer took the field Feb. 10 as the starting catcher for Division II Columbus (Ga.) State, he could look back at what has been a long, trying journey to get there.

"Every day on the diamond might be your last; you have to play that way," Bressoud said. "You can't leave anything on the field. It doesn't last forever. You want to make the best of the time you can play this game."

Coming out of North Cobb High in Kennesaw, Ga., in 2003, Bressoud was noted for his power bat and plus-plus throwing ability. During his senior year of high school, he didn't allow a single stolen base. Baseball America rated Bressoud the No. 12 catcher and No. 161 prospect overall in the 2003 draft class.

The Braves selected Bressoud in the 26th round and he signed with Atlanta that August, passing up a scholarship from Alabama. Although Bressoud doesn't necessarily regret his decision to forego college the first time around, he does feel that going to Alabama probably would have been better for his career.

"I can't say I would take it back," Bressoud said of the decision to sign, "but I probably would have done it differently."

Bressoud's career in the Atlanta system was short-lived. After signing too late to play professionally in 2003, Bressoud spent the 2004 season in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he hit .191 in 47 at-bats. Bressoud participated in Atlanta's spring training in 2005, but after the Braves made him aware that he could return to school, Bressoud and his parents decided that that was his best option.

"It was extremely tough to go from playing everyday to not being able to play at all," Bressoud said.

Although he could not return to a Division I school, Bressoud was able to return to a Division II school thanks to D-II's amateur deregulation process. Adopted in 2001, the policy allows athletes who have signed professional contracts and received payments for athletic participation to regain their amateur status and return to a D-II school. The policy was designed to simplify the often complicated process of determining an athlete's amateur status, which the policy's advocates believed had placed too much emphasis on money. Athletes can return to D-II competition as long as they never signed with an agent and played three or fewer professional seasons. For example, a player who competes in one professional season before returning to school is allowed three years of eligibility, and so on.

In Bressoud's case, because he played in two seasons of professional competition (his participation in Atlanta's 2005 spring training counted as a second season), he was granted two seasons of collegiate eligibility. Athletes who want to take advantage of this process are also required to complete a full academic year in school before they can return to the playing field.

The only live competition Bressoud had seen since leaving the Braves was in the summer of 2006, when he had a solid season for Torrington of the New England Collegiate League, hitting .305 in 95 at-bats and tying for the team lead in RBIs with 23. However, the resumption of his college career had to be put on hold when Bressoud needed Tommy John surgery before the 2007 season began. He was granted a medical redshirt, but facing even more time away from the field was difficult to take.

"This has been a growing experience," Bressoud said. "It's definitely been the toughest thing I've had to go through in my life."

"He's learned patience more than anything," said Columbus State head coach Greg Appleton. "He's matured a lot."

Having recovered from the surgery, Bressoud finally got to make his CSU debut in 2008. While his elbow wasn't quite ready and he missed the team's first seven games of the season, Bressoud got off to a 7-for-21 start in his first five games.

Despite the extended downtime, Appleton said he believes Bressoud still has tremendous tools and that his throwing arm remains outstanding even after the Tommy John surgery. He's expected to be the Cougars' No. 1 catcher and hit in the middle of their order. Columbus State enters the 2008 season as the favorite in the Peach Belt Conference and is rated as one of the top teams in Division II.

"I'm surrounded by some of the best players I've been around," Bressoud said. "We've got a definite shot at a national championship."

"He's such a good kid. He's definitely paid the price to be ready to play," Appleton said. "The good thing about him is through all the adversity, he's stuck with it and kept his confidence in himself."

Beyond the goal of winning a title at Columbus State this season, Bressoud still aspires to play professionally, hoping someone will pick him up after the college season ends. According to a Georgia-based area scout who saw him play in high school, a catcher of his ability should be able to get a shot, provided his tools haven't left him.

"He just wants to play baseball again," Appleton said. "He's grateful Division II has given him the opportunity."