Friday, March 22

Bruin quarterback Richard Brehaut debuts as newest member of baseball team at alumni game

SCOTT JAMES/ucla athletics
Quarterback Richard Brehaut, who started in seven games for the UCLA football team last season, has joined the baseball team as a catcher and designated hitter. He will compete for UCLA this season.

SCOTT JAMES/ucla athletics
Quarterback Richard Brehaut, who started in seven games for the UCLA football team last season, has joined the baseball team as a catcher and designated hitter. He will compete for UCLA this season.

Sam Strong / Daily Bruin

The public address announcer’s voice boomed over the loudspeakers during the UCLA baseball team’s annual alumni game.

“Now batting: No. 16, Richard Brehaut.”

The slumbering heads of fans who had mentally checked out three innings earlier jerked to home plate.

They were more accustomed to seeing Brehaut’s face blown up on the Rose Bowl JumboTron, with the quarterback confidently proclaiming his position and hometown, preceded by the rest of the starters.

He’s not a starter in this sport. In fact, he can’t even get the number he wants.

He’s wearing No. 16 on his baseball jersey rather than his trademark No. 12. Junior All-American pitcher Gerrit Cole already laid claim to that number.

After Saturday’s game at Jackie Robinson Stadium, he filed out of the clubhouse without any fanfare.

There weren’t any reporters waiting to grill him about a questionable pass he made or the status of a nagging injury.

The rising junior, who quarterbacked the football team at the Rose Bowl this past season, officially became a dual sport athlete last week after trying out for baseball coach John Savage and the team captains.

Savage, now entering his seventh season at UCLA, likes what he sees from Brehaut, especially at the plate.

“He’s a very natural-looking left-handed hitter with power,” Savage said. “Who wouldn’t like that?”

After taking a ball from the class of 1993′s Kurt Schwengel, Brehaut laced an RBI single to right field to cap off the 8-1 victory for UCLA’s current varsity team.

“It’s been since June of ’08 that I’ve had an at-bat,” Brehaut said. “It was cool to get in there and see some pitches and to drive the ball to right like that, it felt good. It felt real good.”

As a junior catcher at Los Osos High School in Rancho Cucamonga, Brehaut led the team in batting average, RBIs and home runs, hitting for a .410 average.

But he gave up his senior baseball season to graduate early and enroll at UCLA on a football scholarship ““ an interesting decision considering he played baseball as a 6-year-old and picked up football as a high school freshman.

He had been fighting the itch to get back to the diamond since that junior season, knowing he couldn’t afford to let the baseball rust accumulate for another year. After starting the final seven games of the football season, he approached UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel.

“I wasn’t even going to give it a shot if coach Neuheisel didn’t give me the OK,” Brehaut said. “Once he said he wouldn’t have a problem with it, that’s when I really said, “˜All right. Let’s do this.’”

Although the two sports’ seasons don’t overlap, Brehaut has made it clear that football remains his priority. He is prepared to take on a lesser role on the baseball team to fully participate in spring football practice in April.

But for now, Brehaut is a baseball player, and his face lit up after arriving safely at first base Saturday.

His newfound teammates know that his perfect batting average won’t last, but they nonetheless welcomed him to the nation’s No. 1 team with a chorus of cheers from the dugout.

“We’re excited to have him,” All-American junior pitcher Trevor Bauer said. “We had an open roster spot, and I think he can help our team out. He’s fitting in well, and we’re overjoyed to have him out here.”

The depth chart at the catcher position is crowded for last season’s national runners-up, suggesting that Brehaut will be relied on more as a designated hitter and in pinch-hitting situations.

Junior Steve Rodriguez started 57 of the Bruins’ 68 games at catcher last season, and sophomores Trevor Brown and Tyler Heineman are strong reserve options behind the plate.

Savage knows Brehaut’s development will take time, and he says that nothing is guaranteed for the two-sport athlete.

“We like our lineup, and we have guys that have been in our program for several years,” Savage said. “It’s going to take time for him to get into the lineup to see where he fits.”

No one is more aware of the amount of work needed than Brehaut.

“I’m a ways away from being anywhere near these guys,” Brehaut said. “So it’s going to take some time and I’m going to take it one step at a time, and I’m excited to be out here working every day.”

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