By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- As walk-up music goes, Andrew Brodbeck has found a tune most fans would instantly recognize and no other Valley Baseball League player is likely to poach.
Brodbeck, the starting shortstop for the Woodstock River Bandits, strolls to the plate for home games to the sounds of "The Fishin' Hole," that whistled song that opened so many episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" during it's long television run.
Kind of a strange choice for a player born decades after fictional Mayberry's heyday, but learning his nickname helps it all make sense. To everyone who knows him, Brodbeck goes by "Opie."
"When I was five years old, there were actually two kids named Andrew on my Little League team," Brodbeck said. "My head coach just started calling me Opie, and it's stuck with me every since then to the point where now I introduce myself as Opie because people don't even know my real name half the time.
"Even when I got recruiting letters from colleges and stuff, they'd be to Opie Brodbeck instead of Andrew Brodbeck."
It's true -- Brodbeck still bears more than a passing resemblance as a grown-up version of Ron Howard's boyhood character, Opie Taylor, from the show. He's got the red hair and freckles, the same easy smile.
"When I was younger, I really, really looked like him," Brodbeck said. "Then I grew up, and Ron Howard lost his hair."
Score one for Brodbeck, who still sports a healthy head of hair. And score one for the River Bandits, who picked up Brodbeck as an early-season roster replacement. A two-year starter at Florida's Flagler College, part of the prestigious NCAA Division II Peach Belt Conference, Brodbeck has been a rock-solid contributor for the River Bandits this season.
"He's a gamer," Woodstock manager Phil Betterly said. "Obviously he had a heckuva year this year [at Flagler], hit for a little power, hit for average and was a borderline draft pick."
This past season with the Saints, Brodbeck held down the starting second base job once more and put up eye-popping numbers. He finished second on the team in batting (.340) and on-base percentage (.435) and was third in slugging percentage (.533) while stroking seven home runs, four triples and 11 doubles among his 64 hits. It was enough to create serious buzz that Brodbeck might get drafted, which was the reason he delayed heading out to his original summer-league destination, the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
Brodbeck wasn't selected, and by the time the draft ended his spot in the NECBL had been taken. Brodbeck had a connection to Woodstock he didn't even know about, though. Two of his college teammates, pitchers Mike O'Reilly and Justin Ratte, had already signed on to play for the River Bandits this season. When Flagler's coaching staff let Betterly know Brodbeck was also available, he jumped at the chance to add him to the roster.
"That was a no-brainer when his coach was like, 'Hey, he's available,'" Betterly said. "He hasn't disappointed me at all. He's been a big contributor, comes to play every day, puts in the work."
"... I sent him a text message after we signed him. I was like, 'Hey, Andrew.' He said, 'No sir, please call me Opie.'"
Brodbeck got off to a rough start, straining his hamstring just three games into his Woodstock debut. That put him on the shelf for another two weeks, but he's made up for lost time since getting back on the field right after the all-star break. Going into Thursday's home game against the New Market Rebels, Brodbeck ranked third on the team in batting (.333) with three extra-base hits among his nine.
"I went on a nice little streak of hits," Brodbeck said. "I've just been seeing the ball really well since I got here. So yeah, I kind of picked up where I left off at Flagler, which was a good thing for the team and myself."
Betterly said Brodbeck made the most of that time away from the field, getting back into the batting cage just a week after the injury.
"He takes batting practice very seriously, so he's doing everything he can to at least keep that part of his timing down," Betterly said. "His swing is so short and compact that it doesn't' take him long to make adjustments to game speed again, so that's why he's had a lot of success."
Brodbeck, who's from Palm Harbor, Florida, has handled the position switch, from second to short, with equal ease this season. He's made just two errors in 13 games despite not having played short since before high school. When Betterly asked him to move, Brodbeck saw playing shortstop as an opportunity.
"If you can play short, you can play pretty much anywhere on the field," Brodbeck said. "It's pretty important. I don't know if I'd be able to play short at the next level if I did get a chance to play pro ball, but it just kind of gives me more versatility and kind of shows my athleticism a little bit more."
The move has paid off for both player and team, as Brodbeck has been a rock-steady performer for the River Bandits.
"He knows how to field with his feet," Betterly said. "One thing we talk about with infielders, you field with your feet. If your feet move, you've got soft hands. And he takes great angles to the ball. He knows how to pick his hop, and that's huge wherever you are in the infield."
Kind of like his nickname, playing short has just come naturally for Brodbeck.
"It's been fun," Brodbeck said. "I feel really comfortable over there."
Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org