Concord graduate plays summer ball close to home

After his Wofford freshman season, Concord High graduate Eric Brenk was excited to come home.

But the 19-year-old, a three-time All-South Piedmont Conference selection for the Spiders, wasn't just planning to relax.

Brenk is one of 29 college baseball players spending their summer playing for the Huntersville-based Lake Norman Copperheads, a member of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League.

Brenk said getting the chance to play in a wooden-bat league near his family and friends was key in him deciding to play for the Copperheads.

"It's more convenient," he said, explaining that he gets to live with his parents and even have a day job with his dad.

"It feels more like a normal summer."

But the deciding factor was again playing for his high school mentor, Spider and Copperhead head coach Derek Shoe.

Brenk was the South Piedmont Conference Player of the Year as a senior playing under Shoe. Brenk hit .414 with 24 hits and 15 RBIs while posting a 6-3 record and a 2.29 ERA on the mound that season.

He went on to hit .261 for Wofford this spring, playing as an infielder in 16 of the Terriers' 55 games.

"I didn't get a lot of playing time, but I think I made the most of the time I did get," said Brenk.

Although he has been battling a left hand injury that has sidelined him for most of the summer season, Brenk hopes playing against college talent in the SCBL will help him make more of an impact next spring.

"I'm not all the way healed, but I'd like to get more at-bats," he said. "Playing 10-15 games is better than none."

The Copperheads play a 42-game schedule, calling Hopewell High's baseball field home during the months of June and July.

The team plays four games a week - nine-inning games Mondays and Wednesdays and seven-inning doubleheaders Fridays and Saturdays.

Players from as far as Massachusetts and Texas have made the trip to North Carolina to work on their games with the Copperheads.

"These guys need a place to play in the summer, and there's not a lot of places for them to play at this level," said Copperheads general manager Jeff Carter.

Carter said the Copperheads are able to attract talent from colleges as far as Rhode Island, Boston and Albany, N.Y., because they're part of the reputable SCBL, one of 10 leagues in the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball.

Shoe, a former assistant coach at Pfeiffer, also has built connections with college coaches.

Having out-of-area players can be challenging at times, as Carter explains that the organization has to find them housing, usually from volunteer host families in the Lake Norman community.

Carter said having local players like Brenk on the Copperhead roster is important because they attract people to games - something he said the organization needs.

"We don't get a lot of exposure out here," he said. "A lot of people don't know about us."

Brenk is one of seven players originally from the Charlotte-metro area.

A.L. Brown graduate John Tuttle, who's coming off his first year at Catawba College after being named All-SPC as a senior, plays for the SCBL's Morganton Aggies team.

The Copperhead college team got started eight years ago, when Huntersville's Copperhead Sports - which also runs several youth baseball travel teams - decided having a team in the SCBL would help the organization build relationships with college coaches that would help them promote their youth players.

The team has grown to become a league contender, having won last year's SCBL title and being runners-up the two prior years.

Carter credits Shoe for a lot of the team's success, adding that his demeanor is perfect for the summer program.

"He's intense enough that he is competitive - he likes to win," said Carter. "But he's got the right mix between that and a laid-back style to let the players enjoy their summer."

Carter added that the approach is important when it comes to players dealing with pressure as they try to keep scholarships, win starting roles and perform academically while at school.

"A lot of them find the love of the game in the summer," said Carter.

"It's fun, but you don't get to this level - these college athletes - without being competitive, so as soon as they step on the field, all games are off and they're playing baseball. They're doing their best."