M-U athlete forms bond with pro baseball player

Posted on June 29, 2011

By Jason McGrann

It’s not often that a local athlete can speak with a professional baseball player on a regular basis for words of wisdom regarding America’s pastime.

But that is the case for Moulton-Udell baseball player Kaleb Brinegar. Brinegar, 14, will be a freshman this fall at Moulton-Udell High School and saw time on the M-U varsity baseball squad as an eighth-grader this summer.

Brinegar attended an Indian Hills Community College baseball clinic in Centerville five years ago, where he befriended IHCC-standout and San Juan, Puerto Rico native Pedro Cotto, who was one of the hitting instructors at the camp.

The two formed an instant bond and have remained in touch the past five years as Cotto has worked his way up through the Major League Baseball farm system.

“I went to a batting clinic at Indian Hills and he was one of the helpers there. It was pretty fun. I got to meet him and some other players and he helped me out with hitting,” commented Brinegar.

“You could tell there was an instant connection between Kaleb and Pedro. Kaleb was really struggling with batting at the clinic and Pedro just patiently worked and worked and worked with him. Then after the camp was over, Pedro offered to help him some more,” said mother Sharon Bringar.

While at IHCC, Cotto also found time during his busy schedule to help out with Brinegar’s Little League team.

Brinegar met Cotto in February of 2001 before Cotto finished his career at Indian Hills three months later. Cotto, a left-handed outfielder, then signed a free-agent contract with the Detroit Tigers.

Cotto has spent the past five years as a professional baseball player and is currently a member of the West Michigan Whitecaps, the class A affiliate of the Tigers.

Despite moving on to the minor leagues, Cotto and Brinegar still keep in contact via telephone calls every few months.

The Brinegars met with Cotto’s mother when she visited Centerville for Pedro’s graduation from IHCC in May of 2001.

“His mom is wonderful – we met with her when she came to Indian Hills for his graduation. She has the greatest sense of humor and is so nice. She was willing to try all kinds of new things – she had on chore boots all over our farm. She saw things she’d never seen in her life and was very excited about it,” said Sharon.

The Brinegar family returned the favor by spending Thanksgiving with the Cotto family in Puerto Rico in November of 2002.

“It was the best turkey I’ve ever had,” Brinegar said. “We went to the rainforest and saw a lot of things.”

“He took us to some ballgames in Puerto Rico and watched him play summer ball. We were someplace everyday – we were there for eight days,” commented Sharon.

Following the trip to Puerto Rico, contacting each other on Thanksgiving Day has become tradition for the Brinegar and Cotto family.

“We always talk to him on Thanksgiving Day, because that’s when we were there in Puerto Rico,” Sharon said. “I don’t speak Spanish and Pedro’s mom doesn’t speak much English, but we still do fine on the phone.”

The language barrier has never been a problem for Kaleb or Pedro during their friendship.

“At times it was hard to figure out what he was saying but you could figure it out pretty easily. Sometimes he won’t know a word but you know what he means,” commented Kaleb.

Pedro and Kaleb reunited this summer when Kaleb and Sharon attended a minor league baseball game in Burlington. The Brinegars made the two-hour trek to Burlington to watch the West Michigan Whitecaps play the Burlington Bees in a Midwest League contest on June 23.

Cotto did not play in the game, but Pedro and the Brinegars spent time together and went out to eat after the contest.

“When we went out to eat he gave me some baseball advice. He told me to be relaxed. If you’re nervous then everything is really fast but if you relax everything will seem slower,” remarked Kaleb.

That advice paid dividends the very next day as Brinegar made a game-winning catch at second base during a Babe Ruth game.

“It was a high fly ball and I knew the wind was going to blow it so I kept backing up and had to jump backwards for it and I caught it and won the game for us,” said Brinegar. “I had one of the best games I’ve ever had. His advice probably influenced my performance.”

“All the batting stuff he’s taught me and what he told me about relaxing has helped me a lot. Batting has always been my weak point in baseball. I was always the kid that want to be a fielder and not a batter. But I have a little more courage now after talking to him,” added Kaleb.

Sharon Brinegar feels that both families have a lot in common despite having different backgrounds.

“I think with me being a single mom with two boys – he related to me because his mother is a single mom too. He was excited for us to be at the ballgames, he was looking for us, it was like we were part of his family instantly,” Sharon said. “He’s a great inspiration. He’s always asking about the Centerville community and Indian Hills.”

Sharon believes that both families will get together again soon.

“He invited us to come back to Puerto Rico and we’d love to. He’d like to come back to Iowa and bring his mom and wife sometime too,” added Brinegar.

Cotto is currently second on the West Michigan team, hitting .302 (94-311) with 17 doubles and 25 RBI in 79 games.

The Detroit Tigers currently own the best record in Major League Baseball with 70 wins and 34 losses.

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