Salem Red Sox

Playing in honor of his late father, Red Sox prospect Brett Netzer looks to one day know his comparison given by Alex Cora

Vincent Gallo
August 17, 2018 - 9:17 am
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Brett Netzer wasn’t sure if he was going to get into the game. It was a Wednesday in late February in Fort Myers, Florida. The Red Sox were playing an afternoon exhibition game against the Pirates.

He had been awaiting a chance. In the weeks leading up to that day, Netzer would text his family updates each morning.

Ding.

“Don’t worry about coming out today, we’re having meetings.”

Ding.

“Nothing’s going on today, we’re just training. Fielding at 9, hitting at 11.”

Then, on a Wednesday morning, the green light from Brett finally came through. A call, just a little bit after 8 a.m.

He was going to be listed as available to play at JetBlue Park.

It was a gig as a backup, he wasn’t starting. He told his family that there was no guarantee he’d play. But that wasn’t stopping Netzer’s father, Drew, who was battling colon cancer, from seeing his son in his first spring training game.

Drew’s condition made it impossible for him to travel by plane. He had needed to make the 18-hour drive down Route 95 to get to Fort Myers. Brett’s uncle, Jeff Foy, had removed the seats in the back of his charcoal gray Honda Odyssey. He replaced them with memory foam and a Red Sox blanket – a makeshift bed to help accommodate for Drew. Drew arrived in Florida a little under a week before getting the call from Brett, along with his sister, Jennifer, Jeff, and Jeff's wife Heather.

That Wednesday afternoon, Netzer was called to pinch-hit for Xander Bogaerts in the fifth inning. Pirates pitcher Josh Smoker served the then 21-year-old three pitches, all up in the zone, generating swings-and-misses at all three. As Netzer returned to the dugout after striking out, he was still scanning the stands for his family, wondering if they had made it.

“I didn’t hear back from them [after I had called],” Netzer explained. “I didn’t know if they were coming for sure.”

Netzer would get another chance. Jhon Nunez and Aneury Tavarez occupied the bases as he walked to the plate for a second at-bat. The Red Sox were down 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh. After taking ball one high and away from Kyle Crick, Netzer swung and doubled to the wall in left-center, scoring both runners and giving the Red Sox the lead. As he pulled into second base, he looked up into the box suites.

He saw his dad looking on and smiling. Jeff was on his feet, pumping his fists.

They had made it.

Netzer grinned and pumped his fists back.

“That was my first time seeing [my family] [since leaving for Florida] so that was kind of surreal,” he said. “Having my dad see that, with my name on the back of an actual Boston Red Sox jersey, that’s something he had always talked about. Sharing that moment with him, that’s hands down been the coolest moment of my baseball career.”

Following the game, Netzer was told that someone would like to speak with him. Manager Alex Cora. He wanted to see Brett in his office. Netzer complied.

“Just to be around [Cora] for a little bit, [I could see] he’s an awesome guy ... He prayed for my dad, then he signed the game card for me and gave me some words of encouragement," Netzer said. "That meant so much coming from Alex. It really meant a lot.”

Netzer’s dad passed away in March after a four-year battle with colon cancer. Brett credits him for introducing him to baseball.

“My dad was an avid fan, so as soon as I could walk and talk I had a baseball in my hand and would be throwing it around,” Netzer explained. “He was really my mentor and my coach [in Little League and travel ball] up until about 13 or 14.”

Netzer grew up in Maryland with his two sisters. When he was 14, his mom who is a flight attendant, wanted to transfer her job to Charlotte, N.C. Brett, who had played soccer just to stay busy during the fall months, was happy that the winter up north could no longer break up his baseball season.

“My only thought process was the farther south I was the more baseball I was going to be able to play year round,” he said. “That was the only thing I thought about.”

Netzer credits both his mom and dad for helping him reach his goal of becoming a professional player.

“Both my parents sacrificed so much growing up, taking time over the weekends and spending countless money traveling and letting me live out my dream in trying to live it out in baseball.”

Being drafted in the 2017 MLB draft’s third round came to be somewhat of a full circle being completed for Netzer. The Red Sox were a team with which he was familiar.

They were a direction Ron Bumgarner, Brett’s godfather and employee in the team’s ticket office, wanted him and Drew to turn toward all throughout Brett’s childhood. According to Netzer, it was Bumgarner who passed his story about his father on to Cora. Bumgarner was also able to arrange the box seats to help Netzer’s family make it for his spring training debut.

“[Being drafted by the Red Sox] was super ironic, it was super cool because Ron was always pushing me and my dad to be Sox fans instead of Orioles fans growing up,” said Brett. “My dad and I would always go down to Spring Training and go to Sox games in Fort Myers and Orioles games in Sarasota. I probably went to the same amount of games at Fenway growing up as I did at Camden Yards.”

Jeff Foy is not directly related to Netzer, but Brett has always seen him as an uncle growing up. He had been a good friend of Brett’s father since their childhood. Along with Drew, Foy has assisted Brett throughout his baseball career.  

Netzer has called Foy both his hitting coach and nutritionist. It isn’t an official title – Foy himself says he doesn’t wish to take credit from Brett’s current and past coaches. Netzer insists that his uncle hasn’t – he’s simply referred to Foy that way ever since a light-hearted razz helped snap him out of a hitting slump while playing for a contract in the Cape Cod League.

“He told me, ‘Look Brett, it worked when I was growing up, and I found some study results on Google that said that you’ll have a 95 percent success rate if you swing with your eyes open,’” said Netzer. “The next day I went like 3-for-4 and won the player of the game and got interviewed after the game. I really had nowhere to give credit but to where credit was due.”

Foy is proud of how far Netzer has come. And he knows Brett’s father, his best friend growing up, has just as much pride.

“Brett’s very mature for being 22 years old,” Foy said. “Anybody would be proud of how he was during the times [being recruited and drafted]. Anybody would. He wasn’t a goof [growing up], he was very gracious, very humble, very modest. He made us all proud. He’s not a proud guy, he’s humble. And for his father to be able to see all that [come together] – it’s priceless.”

Foy can’t remember the event fully. But it is a memory that has since stayed with him. It happened back in early March, when he was still at Fort Myers for Brett.

He was with Drew, amongst a crowd of Red Sox coaches scouting both the major and minor leaguers alike. Drew was wearing Brett’s spring training jersey, his son’s name above the No. 7, shining in the Florida sun. He was getting tired of standing, leaning against the practice field fence, and was ready to call and wait quietly for a golf cart to take him home.

Just as the two friends were ready to leave, Foy felt a tap on his shoulder. Standing there in street clothes, was Cora. He asked to speak with Brett’s father.

“Cora stepped away from his duty as manager to be a human being,” reflected Foy. “He told [Drew], ‘We’re going to continue to pray for you, we’re glad you’re here.’ There were no cameras. It wasn’t a publicity stunt. For him to step out of his environment and say something to us, is just amazing.”

Overcome with emotion, Foy expressed to Cora that Drew would be there at Fenway Park if Brett was to ever sign a major league contract. And then, on a dime, Cora offered one last piece of conversation. There was no stutter. There was no rolling of the eyes. No speech about player development. Without missing a beat, in the presence of his dad, Cora spoke of Brett’s name along with another baseball player.

“You know. He reminds me of _.”

With that, the Red Sox coach offered some final words of support to Drew before disappearing into the group of coaches.

Since the utterance of Cora’s comparison, Foy has racked his brain trying to recall who exactly it was. To this day, he says even if he had been told a player of the caliber of Cal Ripken, he wouldn’t have been able to remember. But he still thought of who it could have been on the way back up to Maryland, as his charcoal gray Honda rolled back northward.

He’ll be sure to ask Cora again the next time he sees him.

“I was so emotional and caught up about the conversation before that, that I couldn’t hear it, I don’t remember,” said Foy. “For the life of me I can’t remember who it was – but he spit it out, just like that. He spoke a name of a baseball player and [Brett’s dad] was able to hear that.”

Foy still drives that Honda van. He drives it all over the east coast, alongside his wife Heather to watch Brett in his quest for the majors. He still hasn’t put the seats back into his car. Until the Odyssey is no longer his, that’s where Brett's dad's bed will stay. Foy knows that Netzer is swinging with his eyes open for his family.

For Drew.

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