For Nick Brueser, there’s no sweeter feeling than squaring up a baseball and watching it soar over the outfield fence.
It’s safe to take his word for it. There aren’t many his age who know more about sending balls out of the park.
Brueser slugged his way to the 2016 High School Home Run Derby championship at the MLB All-Star break festivities as a junior. Surrounded by the best in the big leagues, the future Stanford Cardinal and Eau Claire Express player hit four home runs in the finals at Petco Park in San Diego, defeating Nicholas Storz of Brooklyn, New York, by one homer to win the crown.
No wonder he loves the home run so much.
“It’s the best feeling ever. It’s probably the reason I play baseball,” Brueser said of the rush he gets when belting one over the fence.
Opening some eyes on the big stage might have caused his reputation to precede him when he headed to Eau Claire this summer, but Brueser — who hit 24 homers during his high school career — has quietly gone about his business without making much of a big deal about his home run heroics.
He’s alright with it not being something everybody’s thinking about. He’d rather let his current play do the talking.
“I’m sure a couple of (my teammates) know, but I don’t like to brag about it or anything,” Brueser said. “If they don’t know, I’m not going to go out of my way to tell them.”
The High School Home Run Derby took place between the first and second rounds of the MLB derby that year. The two finalists both got a one-minute round to hit as many homers as they could.
The experience allowed Brueser to get out on the field with the game’s biggest stars and soak in the atmosphere of the All-Star festivities from a vantage point reserved for the best of the best.
“It was awesome just to be around a bunch of major league guys, and actually see how big they are and how they interact and stuff like that,” said Brueser, a native of Chandler, Arizona.
Among the big leaguers he got to meet: Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt, a connection set up by the Arizona-based franchise which plays its home games about 25 miles away from Brueser’s hometown.
“The Diamondbacks kind of hooked me up with him,” Brueser said. “He was a really cool guy, we got to talk a lot. He just told me to keep working hard, because it’s the guys that work the hardest that make it the farthest.”
On the flip side of getting to hang around all of the All-Stars came the nerves of performing in front of them and the thousands of fans in attendance.
It was enough to make even the derby champion a little nervous.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking. The first three or four swings, my legs were shaking pretty bad,” Brueser said. “But after that I kind of settled in and hit a few home runs, so it was all good.”
The imposing 6-foot-3 right-handed hitter batted .205 in limited playing time with Stanford during his freshman season this year, not tallying a home run in his 44 at-bats.
Entering Wednesday night’s Express game, he was hitting .222 this Northwoods League season. He’s found his power stroke as of late though, hitting three home runs over the course of the last four games.
“I didn’t play much my freshman year at Stanford, so I had to make up for lost time, shake off the rust those first couple of weeks,” he said of his start to the summer. “Then I kind of found my swing in the last week or so.”
The recent power surge saw him hit his first two homers of the season in an 11-8 win over La Crosse last Saturday. The Express rallied from an 8-0 deficit in the final three innings of that win, powered by Brueser’s solo shots in back-to-back innings.
Coming into Wednesday’s contest, he had five hits and six RBIs in his last five games. As he has adapted to the Northwoods game and the rigors of playing nearly every day, his swing has started to come along.
“It’s just cool to play every day and get better,” Brueser said. “I think this has been the best thing for me so far in college, as far as getting better.”