Howard Herman: Former Pittsfield Astro Brooks Conrad still playing
Fifteen years ago this summer, Pittsfield's 13-year run as the home of a minor league baseball affiliate came to an end. After those 15 years, only one man is left standing on an active roster.
Brooks Conrad, who came to Pittsfield to play for the 2001 Astros, may play the game until they rip the uniform off of him.
"Pretty much," Conrad said. "It's coming down to pretty close to the end. It's going to come down whether or not I feel like I can still help the team win.
"If I ever get the feeling that I can't — I'm done."
Conrad is still plying his trade as an infielder with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League. It's part of the metropolitan Houston, Texas area, and just the latest on a long road for the infielder.
He played in 10 different states in his minor league career, along with a short time with Japan's Hanshin Tigers. Coincidentally, he never reached the majors with the team that drafted him in the eighth round in 2001. Instead, Conrad's first big league game was July 21, 2008, with the Oakland Athletics. The longest time he spent with one team in the bigs was a three-year span with the Atlanta Braves, bouncing between Triple A and the majors.
In the 13 years of affiliated minor league baseball at the grand lady on Wahconah Street, the New York Mets had a number of outstanding baseball players make a stop in the Berkshires on their way to the Show. Jay Payton, Jason Isringhausen, Edgardo Alfonzo, Jeromy Burnitz and Benny Agbayani are just a few of the names. But by the end of 2015, Conrad was the only player playing after former Met A.J. Burnett retired from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It all began for Conrad at Wahconah Park in 2001.
"It's gone by a lot faster than you think it would, for me," Conrad told me when we met up in the visitors locker room at New Britain Stadium, where the Skeeters (a genuinely cool name) were playing the New Britain Bees.
"Coming out of [Arizona State] in 2001 and going straight to Pittsfield, I'm lucky to still be playing," he said.
Of every player on Ivan DeJesus' 2001 Astros squad, only Charlton Jimerson, Todd Self and Phil Barzilla joined Conrad on a big league roster. The other three combined for 30 total major league games. Whereas Conrad played in parts of six years in the bigs.
"We had a pretty good team. Just had some guys that didn't want to keep grinding it out," said Conrad, of a Pittsfield team that went 45-30. "That's something that I've always enjoyed."
Those Astros had the fourth best record in the New York-Penn League, but finished third behind Stedler Division champion Brooklyn and runner-up Staten Island.
It also wasn't a stellar year for talent in the league, although there were some players who really had big league impacts. Kevin Youkilis played for Lowell that year, while Jose Bautista had only five home runs for Williamsport. Ryan Howard had six homers in Batavia.
So when Conrad arrived at Wahconah Park, what did he think?
"Coming from Arizona State, it was a lot different. In short-season A ball, you get a mix of different characters. You get your first taste of people from different countries. It was a big learning experience," he said. "It was cool getting to be a part of that stadium and the history in that ballpark.
"You know, it was different than what I was used to. Looking back, it was a cool experience."
A lot of players in the Atlantic League are marking time and hoping for one last shot at the majors. Including Conrad, eight Skeeters players have big league experience. Conrad said if the phone rang one more time, he'd answer it.
"Without a doubt. Last year, I started out here and got a call from the Mets and went to Triple A [in Las Vegas]. I had a couple of injuries there," he said. "It's an opportunity to continue playing the game I love and have fun doing it."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.