Rock Bridge junior leads baseball team with 'mental game'

Friday, April 18, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:01 p.m. CDT, Friday, April 18, 2014

COLUMBIA — The only thing towering about Connor Brumfield's presence in center field is his shadow, cast on the grass by a springtime sun.

The Rock Bridge High School junior is a lean 6-foot-3. His slick, dirty-blond hair is swept back beneath a dark green Bruins cap.

But it isn’t Brumfield’s physical prowess that sets him apart on the baseball field.

Brumfield has a meticulous work ethic and an intentionally developed confidence. Division I baseball programs started to notice him before the beginning of his sophomore year.

Before the first pitch of his junior year, Brumfield had committed to play baseball at Missouri.

Brumfield grew up a mile from MU’s Taylor Stadium. He dreamed of being a Tiger his whole life. But it wasn’t something he always believed he could do.

“I struggled with not having confidence a lot,” Brumfield said. “I always reassure myself that I’m here for a reason.”

Brumfield’s career at Rock Bridge didn’t start off how he had planned. Rock Bridge coach Justin Towe knew he saw something special in Brumfield during his freshman tryouts, but he forgot to tell him about it.

After the tryouts, Towe sat all the freshmen down between home plate and first base, facing the north side of Rock Bridge’s baseball field. If he read your name, you were good to go. You made the team.

He didn’t read Brumfield’s name.

“He was in alphabetical order, and I knew that,” Brumfield said. “And then the B’s went by and I was like, well, that’s weird.”

It was a mistake. Towe had accidentally skipped over Brumfield’s name.

“The look on his face was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Towe remembered. “He was crushed. And then it hit me, and I called him.”

Brumfield said he was briefly shocked and confused.

“They were like, ‘Oh yeah, Brumfield, you’re good to go too.’ I was like, 'Oh. Thanks,'” Brumfield said with a grin. He now thinks it’s funny when he looks back on it. “They seemed a little nonchalant about it, but it was about to break my heart.”

Brumfield didn’t let the mishap hang with him. He wasted no time contributing to the Bruins' success on the field. He recorded a big base hit in extra innings to beat rival Hickman High School in his freshman year.

“That doesn’t happen very often,” Towe said. “There’s been very few people to play as freshmen.”

Towe, who played baseball for head coach Tim Jamieson at Missouri, knew he had a Division I player on his hands. He said MU was talking to him about Brumfield early in his sophomore year.

“You just watch him move in the field, and you know he’s going to be one of those guys,” Towe said.

Brumfield said his “mental game” is what sets him apart from other players his age. He said it’s easy to get caught up in the physical steps and forget that baseball is a thinking game. His belief in his own abilities has been just as important as having those skills.

“With the age group I play with, it’s kind of a second thought for a lot of people,” Brumfield said. “They kind of go with the physical aspect first and forget about the mental side of the game.”

Brumfield, who is batting .359 for the season, said he has stepped his game up since being offered the scholarship from Missouri. He knows he still has work to do if he wants to contribute to the Tigers in his freshman year like he did with the Bruins.

When Brumfield accepted Missouri’s offer so early, some coaches were worried he would relax on the field. But Towe said it has been the opposite for his star center fielder.

“When you have a guy that commits that early, you worry that he’ll think he’s done what he needs to do and he’ll just take it off,” Towe said. “He’s not that guy.”

 Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.

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