Homegrown Hero Brody Brecht Could Help Iowa Return To Omaha


Image credit: Brody Brecht (Photo by Eddie Kelly / ProLook Photos)

Iowa righthander Brody Brecht unleashed 100 mph fastballs from the Dell Diamond mound on Feb. 25, 2023.

The Hawkeyes had traveled to the Round Rock Classic in Austin, Texas, where the weather was warm, but the crowd of purple-and-yellow LSU fans was not.

Brecht was in a constant battle with the strike zone, walking the first batter, giving up his only hit, then walking a third. Following a mound visit, Brecht struck out the side in order to end the first inning.

The sophomore’s start was short-lived, but he struck out six in 3.1 innings and limited the nation’s No. 1 team and eventual national champion to one hit in the process of handing the Tigers their first loss of the season. It wasn’t perfect—Brecht’s eight walks resulted in two earned runs—but he also didn’t leave early by choice. The football competitor in him took over as he yelled in frustration at a call by the umpire and was ejected.

The spotlight has shone brightly on Brecht during his college career. The Ankeny, Iowa, native came to Iowa City as a two-sport athlete. His premium fastball and devastating breaking ball tantalized scouts on the mound. His 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame and athleticism made him a promising wide receiver. But a thumb injury his freshman year kept him off the gridiron and slowed his progress on the diamond.

Brecht went into his 2023 sophomore year as a two-sport player, but he learned last spring that he was ready to quit football to concentrate fully on baseball.

“I had been thinking about it right around the time football season got wrapped up,” Brecht said. “I was dealing with nagging injuries, but as it kind of got closer to baseball season, I started thinking about it more and more. And the first two weeks of baseball season were going really well, and at that point I realized (that) this is probably going to be my future.”  

That start against LSU was the moment Brecht—and those around him—had been waiting for.

“We were kind of joking about it over Thanksgiving break that it was inevitable that it was going to happen eventually—if he was blowing up in football, then he’d have to focus on that,” Brecht’s personal pitching coach Nick Belzer said. “Then in baseball, when he was throwing 100 (mph) as a freshman it was like, ‘OK, you might have to quit football.’ ”

The balance of being a multi-sport athlete is nothing new for an Iowa native. Iowa is the only state where high school baseball is played in the summer. Because of that, Brecht never played travel ball as a prep—something that might be unfathomable to the rest of the country.

“I don’t think anybody knew me until the end of my junior year,” Brecht said “We’re playing (high school ball) in the summer. We don’t (get to) go to these Perfect Game or USA (Baseball) showcases—we’re just grinding it out in some cornfields . . .

“Well, I don’t live in the cornfields, but it’s an Iowa joke.”

Each summer, the top Iowa high school talent goes head-to-head throughout the state. That serves Iowa coach Rick Heller, who is able to lock down the state’s best talent from a young age, building trust with players who might be hidden treasures. He knew about Brecht as a high school sophomore.

“We were on Brody real early in his high school career—way ahead of football because their recruiting cycle is a bit later than ours,” Heller said. “Brody was always up front with us and letting us know that football was important and that he was going to try to do both in college. He had told us many times that this is where he wanted to come for baseball, but it was the football piece that was going to have to work.”

Brecht played for Ankeny High, just north of Des Moines, a suburban powerhouse in the state’s highest prep classification. He played wide receiver on a state championship team his senior season, while also being on a baseball team that was the state runner-up in 2020.

“It’s crazy what some of these kids do. Some of the good dual guys will play football on Friday and then there’ll be a Perfect Game event on Saturday and Sunday—and they try to do both,” Heller said. “It is pretty taxing on them, but for the sleepers, especially the juniors, seniors . . . a lot of times, not many people would know about those guys other than us, because of the relationships that we’ve been able to build.”

Brecht is the very definition of a homegrown Iowa product. He is trained by Belzer, himself a former Ankeny pitcher who attended Minnesota State and pitched for two seasons in the Brewers’ system. The 28-year-old remains active in independent leagues in the spring and summer. In the offseason, Belzer works a landscaping job, while coaching players like Brecht and prep righthander Joey Oakie, a 2024 prospect who also has first-round upside, in the evenings.

“He throws like an athlete,” Belzer said of Brecht. “That’s one thing I really teach my pitchers. I don’t want to make them mechanical robots. I want them to kind of throw with their athleticism and be able to explode as fast as they can.”

But balancing football and baseball—something that used to work to Brecht’s benefit—became an impediment in college.

“It was never in the plans that he would just play baseball,” Heller said. “The problem was just bad luck. Had he stayed injury-free, he’d still be doing both.”

Brecht’s thumb injury in 2022 largely hampered his fall development because it took weeks to heal. That season he pitched 22.2 innings and appeared in 17 games, mostly in relief. He recorded a 3.18 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 25 walks.

In his first outing as a starter during the Big Ten Conference Tournament that spring, he faced just four batters, giving up two runs against Michigan.

As he transitioned back to training for football that summer, Brecht suffered a hamstring injury that delayed his season by a few weeks. He finished the 2022 season catching nine passes for 87 yards.

Having played a minor role on Iowa’s offense, and still dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, Brecht announced that he was dropping football to focus on baseball in March 2023.

In his March 31 start, he struck out 13 Maryland batters and threw a fastball that showed as 104 mph on the radar gun used by the Big Ten Network. The video went viral on social media, though it’s important to note that stadium radar guns, especially in college, tend to be inaccurate.

Giving up football came with heartbreak, but it also helped Brecht gain a deeper appreciation for everything that goes into being a pitcher.

“When he was here for winter break, I asked him, ‘You really love pitching now, don’t you?’ And I can just see it in his eyes. He’s got a little twinkle,” Belzer said. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, I do,’ and he’s really into all the recovery and all the arm care. He’s showing me stuff.”

Last fall, Iowa pitching coach Sean McGrath took Brecht back to the basics, analyzing the way he moved to pinpoint ways to help him improve his command. He found that Brecht had bulked up too much for football, which narrowed his thoracic rotation by 10 degrees. So Brecht worked with a strength coach on a plan to increase his mobility.

McGrath, a former minor league pitching coach with the Mariners, is equipped to bring out the best in Brecht. McGrath quietly developed an Iowa staff in 2023 that ranked fifth nationally with 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings and second with 6.74 hits per nine.

Brecht was a key contributor to those finishes. He allowed 4.32 hits per nine innings, the lowest rate in the nation.

“I think part of it is he grew up wearing Hawkeye underwear,” McGrath said. “We were concerned about those external pressures. But he looked us in the eyes and said: ‘Don’t worry about me: I’m a Hawkeye. That’s the best thing for my family.’”

So when Brecht returned for his first full fall, McGrath marked up a few baseballs and handed them to him, instructing him to throw with different grips. This was the beginning of transforming Brecht into more than just a two-trick pony.

Brecht developed a sweeper slider at 91 mph with eight inches of glove-side break and a gyro slider at 89-90 with six inches of downward break. He will flash a quality splitter every once in a while.

“Last year, my slider, I didn’t really throw the same exact shape every time,” Brecht said. “Sometimes, it would sweep. Sometimes it would be more deep. Sometimes, it’d be in between, but I didn’t really have intention. I just kind of threw it, and it did what it did. But now I’m able to distinguish when I want to sweep it and when I want to throw my normal one.”

And Brecht is just the exclamation point to a rotation that has the upside to be the best in the nation. Righthander Marcus Morgan is a Top 100 draft prospect and lefthander Cade Obermueller has a chance to pitch his way into that same range. Morgan and Obermueller also are homegrown. Both grew up in Iowa City.

Last season, the Hawkeyes made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017. They finished 1.5 games behind Maryland in the Big Ten standings and then lost to the Terrapins in the conference tournament title game. This year, Iowa is thinking even bigger. It hasn’t won the regular-season title since 1990 and now enters the year as the favorite.

Iowa hasn’t reached Omaha since 1972, but with a power-armed, bat-missing rotation leading the way in 2024, anything feels possible.

Brecht believes Iowa has something special in store this season, and he’s put everything he has into this final season to give back to the school that helped him find his calling.

“As cool as warm weather and the SEC sounds, I think we’ve got good things going on up here in Iowa City,” Brecht said, “and I’ve been playing in the cold my whole life. I’m used to it by now.” 

Leah Vann covers the Astros for Chron.com and previously covered the LSU and Iowa beats

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