Most players must overcome certain obstacles on and off the diamond to realize their big-league aspirations.
Brae Wright may have taken longer to reach this point than he expected, but the 25-year-old southpaw has cleared physical and mental hurdles to keep his baseball career on track in Milwaukee's farm system.
First, he suffered a broken bone in his wrist while rough-housing with college buddies as a junior at Oklahoma State in 2005.
"It was just stupid scuffling around with roommates," the 6-5, 225-pounder said. "I got my thumb bent way back and that broke a small bone in my wrist. But because it was in a place that doesn't get as much blood flow, it was an injury that took longer to heal. So, they decided that I should get a pin put in.
"But the day I was supposed to have surgery, I woke up with like a 100-degree temperature and they put the operation off for two weeks," Wright added. "Then I went in and they took x-rays and it had healed. So I started throwing and doing everything, but it had set me back about 21/2 months."
It also eliminated any leverage and negotiating power he had for that summer's draft and scared most teams away, so Wright, who was selected in the 26th round by Florida out of Southaven (Miss.) High School in 2002, went back for his senior season with the Cowboys.
Things worked out for the best as Wright finished his collegiate run—which featured two years at Ole Miss and the final two at OSU—with a 22-11 record. That prompted the Brewers to pick him in the sixth round in June 2006.
"I had no idea what to expect, so I just waited to see what happened," Wright said. "When the Brewers called me, I was excited, mainly because I had an opportunity."
However, his toughest ordeal didn't occur until a year later, his first full professional campaign at Single-A West Virginia, a season that saw Wright compile a pedestrian 6-6 mark with a 5.87 earned-run average in 21 starts.
"I was looking forward to the season because I felt like my baseball career was starting over," Wright said. "I had a lot to prove to the organization because I had sort of gone through the motions and hadn't made a good impression at Helena in 2006 (2-2, 4.54). They worked a lot on my mechanics, but even though my train of thought was to be the best I could be and I was open to learning anything new, I felt lost. I wasn't having any success to build from, so it was frustrating.
"Things just weren't clicking, but me and pitching coach John Curtis had bonded and later in the year it was like a light bulb came on," Wright added. "J.C. was supportive, patient and somehow we connected and that really helped me through the bad times. The biggest thing I learned in West Virginia was how to deal with and bounce back from adversity. I learned not to freak out and try to make a ton of changes because I got my brains pounded, that you just have to come back and prepare for your next game. That was huge for me."
Wright went 0-2 with a 2.84 ERA in seven outings at Advanced A Brevard County to end 2007 on a high note.
"I did real well and don't think I hit any bumps there," Wright said. "I got to pitch in the playoffs and faced a step up in competition, so it was a good building point and gave me confidence again."
It showed during the 2008 season at Double-A Huntsville, where his 6-10 record wasn't indicative of how much progress Wright had made. He finished with a 3.59 ERA in 27 starts, striking out 120 and walking 60 in 170.2 innings.
"Sometimes numbers can be deceiving, and at the end of the day, you know that you can only control what you do," Wright said. "Sometimes you feel like you're cursed, but I concentrated on keeping the team in games and eating up innings. I watched a lot of video with Coach Chris Hook and learned a ton. They say that the biggest jump is from A to AA, so I thought everything went well and that the season was a huge success."
Milwaukee apparently agreed as the team's brass invited him to participate in the Arizona Fall League, although they put him on the taxi squad because they didn't want to risk injury after his heavy workload with the Stars.
He was 0-0 with a 5.87 ERA in 7.2 innings. He fared well, tossing five scoreless outings before allowing six of the eight hits and all five runs he gave up during his final two appearances.
"Gord (Ash) and Doug (Melvin) were in town and asked me if I'd be interested in playing in the AFL and I said yes, of course," Wright said. "Even though it was only the taxi squad, I felt like it was a bonus, a reward for having a good year. We all met with Coach Hook about what our goals for the year had been, and one of mine was getting back on the map with the Brewers. I felt like they really didn't know what they had in me, and I told Coach that I believe I got back on the map with the organization and he agreed."
That means Wright will continue to fine tune his repertoire, which includes an 88 to 90 mph fastball—two- and four-seamers as well as cutters—slider, curveball and changeup.
"My go-to pitches are my off-speed stuff, the slider and changeup," Wright said. "I'm not a power guy, somebody who can bring it at 95 to 100 mph. I threw harder in college, but you learn quickly that you can't get away with stuff in the pros like you did in college. I developed the sinker at West Virginia and added a cutter, and my curveball is better. The key for me is having a good mix, and that gets you through the fifth, sixth and seventh innings."
Needless to say, Wright can't wait to see what 2009 holds in store.
"The Brewers are good at developing players and don't set you up for failure," Wright said. "They give everybody attention, so it comes down to how bad you want to get better. My goal all along has been never to repeat a level, so I'd like to start off at Triple-A and obviously love to get to the big leagues.
"But I'm realistic, and even though I have certain goals as far as numbers, I can't worry about what the Brewers decide and can only control what I do on the field. The main thing is that I want to stay on the map. If I perform well, I'll get the right opportunities, and if I don't then I don't deserve it. Approaching it that way takes a lot of the stress and pressure off."