New summer college baseball team turns to Independence alum for leadership, knowledge
by Aaron Garcia
Terry Brewer understands the broader implications of having a summer college baseball league operating around town. He understands that for college baseball players, having a team to play on when school isn’t in session is an invaluable tool, a practice made famous by other, similar leagues already competing around the country. He understands that it will give the players another shot at being seen by a Major League Baseball scout, and with the amount of talent that seems to be pouring out of the southern Mecklenburg area, that’s an important factor.
Brewer, a Mint Hill native and current head coach for the Southern Collegiate Baseball League’s newest team, the Pineville Pioneers, understands all this because he understands baseball. Rather, he knows the game as if it were simply a side of his own personality, and given the cumulative time he’s spent on the field and in the dugout, it’s hard to see the distinction.
In many ways, Brewer is Charlotte’s “Mr. Baseball”. After graduating from Independence High in 1968, Brewer played for the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs. After that, he spent 21 years coaching high school teams at West Charlotte and Garinger before using his talents as a scout for the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays. This summer, Brewer has returned to the dugout to lead the SCBL’s Pioneers.
The SCBL is a wooden-bat summer baseball league for college baseball players. The teams play six games a week; two nine-inning games on weeknights and a pair of seven-inning double-headers each weekend. While wrapping up the regular season’s final week, Pineville clinched the league’s second seed in the playoffs behind the Lake Norman Copperheads with a record of 18-17, meaning the Pioneers will host a first-round playoff game on Monday, July 25. Furthermore, the Pioneers are winning with several local products on the field. Former Butler standout Tyler Tewell, a rising junior at Appalachian State, was among the team’s leading offensive players (.308 batting average) before being sidelined with a foot injury. South Mecklenburg alums Jeff Barkley and Michael Atz and former Providence Panther Alex Askey have each contributed to the team’s pitching staff while 2009 Myers Park graduate Joe Hager has gotten time in the outfield.
But, explained Brewer, winning is just a small part of what he is hoping his players gain from this summer’s experience.
“When the team started, I gave the guys three rules: have fun, work hard enough to get better and give us a chance to win,” Brewer explained. “Winning isn’t the absolute here.”
No, improvement through learning is the players’ ultimate goal, and that’s why Brewer is loving his latest return to the dugout. After all, the coach said he feels a responsibility to the game since “baseball was there for me when I was 5 foot 7, 150 pounds.”
“My true passion has always been teaching,” Brewer said before a recent contest. “That’s what this is: teaching the game at a little better level so it becomes more fun (for the players).
“That’s been the fun part of it for me; getting back into the teaching part of it. – teaching the game situations, talking to a player when he comes off the field after a mistake. To me, that’s the sheer joy.”
And so far, the players have been willing participants, said Brewer, whose team plays at downtown Pineville’s recently renovated Jack Hughes Park.
“By having a facility like the one Pineville’s put forth for us, and having these kids who are willing to make a commitment all summer and not go to the beach and not do a lot of the things they’d normally be doing like getting full-time summer jobs, it’s improving every team that they come to us from.
“The kids will be better; they’ve gotten more at-bats and they’ve caught more ground balls.
But coaching the Pioneers has given him an audience willing to learn another kind of lesson. As a native of North Carolina and a lifelong follower of the sport and its impact on the area, Brewer recalls a time when mill towns across the south provided the backbone of Major League Baseball’s current minor-league farm system. He tells his players about how games were played at the old Johnson Mill on the north side of town or at Magnolia Avenue’s Griffith Park. Most people, said Brewer, have forgotten that the Charlotte Hornets weren’t just Charlotte’s first professional basketball team, but rather Charlotte’s first official minor league baseball team.
“That’s gotten lost,” he lamented.
That’s where he comes in.
“I like to share that a little bit with these guys, a little bit of the history,” said Brewer.
For Brewer, keeping an eye on the past is vital when planning the future. After all, the coach would love to see history repeat itself.
“In 1957, North Carolina had more Major League Baseball players than any other state,” Brewer said. “What does that tell you about the past in North Carolina? Now, it’s Texas, California and Florida.
“That’s what I’d love to see again, is for North Carolina to have more major leaguers than any other state in the country, and it could happen, as long as baseball at this level and below continues to grow and expand and do what it’s doing.”
But Brewer hasn’t just provided his players with folksy anecdotes and history lessons. As his lifelong association with the game suggests, the guy knows a thing or two about the game.
“Having (Coach Brewer) out here has been helpful,” said Askey. “He knows everything about the game and I’m 20 times better just being here this summer and having him out here has been a real blessing.”
Added Barkley: “(Brewer) definitely knows more about the game than a lot of coaches I’ve had. Being able to soak up the experience he’s had in the game, it’s been good to have him as a coach.”
Dave Collins, the Pioneers’ Chief Operating Officer, also fills the same role for Carolinas Baseball Center, a baseball-training facility in south Charlotte where Brewer also works as an instructor. Collins said after he and partner Jeff Shaefer acquired the Pioneers when the franchise folded in it’s original home in Johnson City (Tenn.), the two immediately recognized that Brewer would be the ideal fit to lead the Pioneers.
“This league and these other summer college leagues, not only are they about having fun and getting your work in and getting better for the next year, but it’s about exposure,” Collins explained. “The SCBL is one of the leagues that’s funded, in part, by Major League Baseball. So we want to work hard to get more scouts involved, more scouts in the stands coming to see these guys so they get on the radar their junior years (of college) and potentially (become targets for) the (MLB) Draft.
“Not only his coaching experience, but his network of scouts and the scouting experience he had made it a perfect fit,” Collins continued. “There are a lot of good coaches in this league and there’s a lot of good coaches around the Charlotte area. He’s got nothing to prove to anybody; he’s just coming out here and doing what’s right for the kids.”
And that is easy to understand.