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Packing a Big Punch : Brea-Olinda Catcher Mike Brambilla Has Worked Hard to Become One of the Top Power Hitters in the County


BREA — Mike Brambilla stopped packing his bag and sat upright on the bench in front of his gym locker as he pondered the loaded question last season.

Several members of the Brea-Olinda High baseball team asked Brambilla, their hot-hitting junior catcher, if he was going to hit a home run against Orange League archrival Valencia that day. Although Brambilla was swinging the bat well, he did not want to jinx himself with lofty predictions.

He figured the best thing to do was go with the standard line, "I'll do my best." Brambilla knew that to tell his buddies anything else might sound like boasting.

Then again, honesty is the best policy.

"I said, 'Yeah, I'll hit one today,' " Brambilla said. "I'm a power hitter, that's my strong point, so I said I would."

Actually, he short-changed himself.

Brambilla went well beyond his expectations with a home run, a triple, a double and four runs batted in as the Wildcats routed Valencia, 20-4. His attempt to hit for the cycle ended in his final at-bat when he grounded out.

Still, a prodigious performance. Brambilla was anything but surprised.

"When I go to the plate, I look at the pitcher like, 'I'm better than you, you can't beat me,' " he said. "I get the feeling like nothing can stop me."

Much of the time, Brambilla is correct.

A relentless worker and bursting with confidence, Brambilla, now a 17-year-old senior, has turned himself into one of the county's premier long-ball threats. He is the muscle in the offense for Brea-Olinda (6-2, 0-2 in league play), which is ranked ninth in the county and travels to Anaheim today for a league game at 3:15 p.m.

"I've totally dedicated myself to the game," Brambilla said. "I think that's why I've had the success I've had."

Brambilla, 6 feet 2, 195 pounds, is off to a torrid start, batting .519 (14 for 27) with four home runs (tied for the county lead) and a county-leading 17 RBIs.

"I'm really proud of how fast I've started," Brambilla said. "I worked hard coming into the season to have a better year than I had last year, and I expected to, but I didn't think it would happen so quickly."

Or with as much impact.

Powered by his two-run home run, Brea-Olinda defeated Simi Valley Royal, 9-5, in a championship semifinal of the El Segundo tournament March 10. The Wildcats defeated Edison, 7-3, for the championship March 12 as Brambilla had a homer, a double and four RBIs in the title game.

The impressive numbers, Brambilla said, have not come easily.

In addition to his normal practice time with the Wildcats, Brambilla also receives hitting lessons from Nelson Straley, the hitting coach at Ocean View High. For two hours every weekend, they work on refining Brambilla's swing to produce the most punch.

"He's a very talented kid who works hard," Straley said. "He deserves every bit of the success he's having."

Despite the eye-opening numbers, Wildcat Coach Steve Hiskey said he did not expect anything less.

"You can tell just by looking at some guys if they can hit, and he's one of them," Hiskey said. "(The coaching staff) knew he would be able to hit at this level since he was a freshman.

"He is just one of those guys who usually produces."

Although he had no doubts about Brambilla's ability, Hiskey kept him in the program's lower levels until last season. Hiskey said the Wildcats' varsity was dominated by talented seniors during Brambilla's freshman and sophomore seasons, and he would have only watched from the Wildcat dugout.

But last season, Hiskey relied on the lower levels because the entire roster from the previous season graduated. When his chance finally arrived, Brambilla went deep.

He was selected first-team all-league after batting .375 with six home runs and 23 RBIs. Brambilla tied for fifth in the county in home runs and threw out about 45% of runners who attempted to steal.

What's more, Brambilla won the Wildcats' Big Stick award, which is presented each season to the player who leads Brea-Olinda in extra-base hits.

"I wasn't nervous (entering last season) because I've played a lot (of baseball)," Brambilla said. "I don't think I would have been prepared for varsity ball, or had as good a season, if I didn't play a lot before."

Hoping to keep an edge following his solid junior season, Brambilla played in organized leagues for top players under 18 in the summer and fall.

He has received letters from several colleges, but has no concrete plans for next season. Brambilla, who dreams of a career as a major league catcher, hopes to be selected in the June amateur baseball draft.

Straley believes Brambilla's dream might become reality.

"He's a big kid who can hit for power," Straley said, "and any time a catcher can hit for power, people are going to be interested."

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