Eric Brenk has to deal with something few other professional baseball players face: traffic in Berlin.
That’s right. The one in Germany.
The Concord High graduate is in the middle of his second season playing in the Bundisliga league, which is the Eastern European country’s highest level of pro baseball.
Germany, a land that is native to his mother’s side of the family, is halfway around the world but Brenk hopes his career detour will lead to a professional baseball opportunity in America.
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Brenk completed his four-year collegiate career at Wofford in 2014. He wasn’t drafted by any American pro teams so Brenk pursued a career in Europe, hoping it would help build a resume that major league scouts would notice.
The shortstop is a member of the Bonn Capitals team, which led the Bundisliga northern (Nord) division with a 20-2 record as of July 20. The Capitals had a two game lead over the second place Solingen Alligators.
In 21 games, Brenk’s .347 batting average was among the Capitals’ leaders and he was tops on the team with 32 runs scored and 16 stolen bases. Bonn had two regular season games left before the start of the league playoffs.
“I decided if I was going to do something like this, now is the time in my life,” said Brenk. “(And) I didn't want to regret not taking the opportunity.”
From 2006-2010, Brenk was a three-time team MVP for the Concord Spiders. As a senior, he was the South Piedmont 3A Conference Player of the Year. Brenk also ranked 10th in his graduating class.
At Wofford, Brenk was a three-year starter at third base for the Terriers and batted a career best .268 as a senior. Brenk said major league scouts stopped talking to him after he suffered multiple injuries during his first three seasons.
Brenk was not ready to give up on his dreams of playing pro ball in America. He heard of possible opportunities to play in Europe but some road blocks made it difficult.
European teams have limits on the number of American players. Also, when the collegiate season ended, many of European teams were in the middle of their seasons.
Brenk was fortunate that a spot with the Bad Homburg Hornets (Bad Homburg is a German town) came open. He interviewed with team reps through Skype, which led to a contract with the team.
The Bundisliga is primarily a league for amateur players but he says some teams (usually ones with better win-loss records) are able to pay their players through financing from sponsors. Brenk estimates the salary range for players is between $400-$1,500 per month.
Bad Homburg was one of the worse teams in the Bundisliga’s southern division but Brenk made the best of the opportunity, batting near .400 for the season. Scouts for the German National Team were keen to Brenk’s ability, especially since he held German citizenship through his grandparents’ family ties to Germany.
Brenk flew to North Carolina and drove to the German embassy in Atlanta to receive his German passport. A couple days later he tried out for and made the German National team, which eventually finished in fifth place in a tournament with other European teams.
“The level of play, of course, isn't as high as the U.S. National team,” said Brenk. “But I was still representing a country of which most of my family is from, which is a huge honor. I had to be sure to respect the sense of pride that the other players who were born and raised in Germany felt. But I now feel a similar sense of pride.”
Because he holds a German passport, Brenk is no longer considered to be a foreign player in Germany. Prior to this season, he signed a two-year contract with Bonn that pays him a monthly salary and provides room and board. He also helps coach a couple of Bonn’s lower level teams.
Brenk compares the better Bundisliga teams to being on a competitive level with Independent and lower level minor league teams in the U.S. Baseball, he says, is still a hobby to many of the German players who live in a country dominated by soccer.
The Bundisliga playoffs start in August and run through September. Brenk, who graduated from Wofford with a degree in finance and economics, plans on staying in Germany this off-season and starting on his master’s degree at the Cologne Business School.
Brenk is still a member of the German National Team that will play in the World Baseball Classic qualifier in 2016 with hopes of advancing to the World Baseball Classic in 2017. Ultimately, he wants to fulfill his American professional dreams.
“There are (American) scouts in Europe,” said Brenk. “They do sign German talent here. I could get seen here or perhaps in an international competition.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.