Local baseball standout Brandsgaard hangs up bat, glove

Shifting education needs prompt current Mudcat to leave diamond behind

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
2020 Chillicothe High School graduate Wes Brandsgaard  strokes an eighth-inning single to right field to help extend a rally that eventually ended with the Chillicothe Mudcats gaining a 10-9 walkoff victory over the Sedalia Bombers at Trenton Wednesday. Entering Friday's game against Nevada, the local product was second on the team with an on-base rate of .471.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

Wes Brandsgaard

In a decision made more difficult by the success he was having with the college-level, summer team in hometown, Chillicothean Wes Brandsgaard – one of Chillicothe High School’s finest baseball players ever and flourishing in his inaugural season with the Chillicothe Mudcats club the past month – confirmed to the C-T Thursday that he had informed Mudcats head coach Tyler Hudlow that he was ending his competitive playing career to focus on the demands of his education and career plans.

Having attended and played State Fair Community College at Sedalia during the past school year after a stellar CHS career unfortunately cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic which eliminated his would-be senior season in 2020, Brandsgaard told the C-T that his intention to pursue a career in medicine and the demands that would put on his time and energies both during school years and through summer months led him to conclude, after much thought and assessment, that playing collegiately and, prospectively, the next summer or two with the Fish would not be conducive to his pre-med studies.

Because of those professional-career plans, he stated, he’ll need to go through the time-consuming process of transferring from SFCC to the University of Missouri-Columbia for the fall 2021 semester and getting enrolled in classes he’ll want/need to advance his medical studies.

“Once I decided that (leaving State Fair and thus his baseball participation there and the need to spend his summers still involved in course work at MU), it didn’t seem to make sense to me to finish out this summer (with the Mudcats),” he explained.

His decision, which seemingly precludes being a part of the summer team in town in 2022 and 2023 – he was due to be on the 2020 team’s roster, but the pandemic canceled that season, too, both diminishes the current Mudcats team and perhaps short-circuits what teased to be the most-successful career with the nearly-20-years-old local wood-bat baseball team of an local player to date.

While several previous CHS grads have performed admirably with the summer team since it began in 2002 – pitchers Josh Norris and Colin Parker had solid individual seasons and multi-year careers with the Fish (Parker is tied for second-most career wins) and, more recently, outfielder Derek Hussey was a MINK League All-Star during his lone (2018) season in the maroon-and-black, lefthanded-hitting catcher/first baseman/designated hitter Brandsgaard not only was among the Mudcats’ statistical leaders in multiple batting categories through the first month of the season, but also among the top in the entire, 8-teams MINK League in the important on-base rate category.

Although used a bit sporadically – he started only 10 of the club’s 16 games prior to his “retirement” as the club wobbled to a 5-11 record, he fashioned a sensational .525 on-base (OBP) rate – meaning he reached base safely via hit, walk or hit by pitch in more than half of 40 plate appearances. At the time of the last of his 10 games played on June 20, he ranked in the top five in the league in that statistic.

With the Mudcats having had only two games since then, due to wet weather – what proved to be Brandsgaard’s last one in uniform June 28 in which he was not in the starting lineup and then last Thursday, at the time of the writing of this article last Friday, the Chillicothean’s OBP number was about 80 points higher than the team’s second-best rate.

His raw batting average of .345 (10 hits in 29 official at-bats) also was No. 1 on the squad at the time of his decision to opt out, although outfielder/DH Braedyn Brewer’s 2-for-5 game in last Thursday’s win over St. Joseph at least momentarily pushed him past Brandsgaard to .349.

The 2020 Chillicothe High alum’s OPS (on-base rate plus slugging rate) of .939 was third on the team entering July.

Given his lesser playing time than several teammates who had hit well during the season’s opening month, Brandsgaard’s “counting” stats (non-averaged) were not as lofty as others on the team, but his offensive success rates largely measured up well, particularly when his normal placement in the batting order is factored in.

Despite being slotted above the No. 7 spot in the lineup only three times in his 10 games, he drove in runs in nearly half (four) of his 10 games. His RBI total of five in 10 games was comparable to others who regularly hit in the upper or middle part of the lineup where run-production opportunities tend to be more common.

Also, despite having only about half to two-thirds of the plate appearances of many teammates with lesser hitting success than him, Brandsgaard was tied for third on the club in total walks drawn through the end of June, not to mention being plunked by a pitch a team-most three times. He and outfielder Josh Swinehart, an everyday player usually batting second or third in the lineup, were the only Fish with more bases on balls than strikeouts through July 1. The Chillicothe product had three multi-walks games and twice in 10 games had contests in which he had both two hits and two walks.

Defensively, he was one of only three position players yet to commit an error, as well.

Brandsgaard’s strong showing with the Mudcats only continued the baseball field and other sports success he’d had representing Chillicothe.

One of the best Chillicothe High School baseball players in the program's quarter-century history, Wes Brandsgaard lashes a single during an April 27, 2019, home game against Maryville at the Daryl Danner Memorial Park field. A starter for the Hornets from the opening game of his career, which was limited to only three seasons by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Brandsgaard was in the midst of an excellent first season with the college-level Chillicothe Mudcats summer team this team this year when changing educational needs led him to decide conclude his baseball career.

The 6’4”, 225-pounder was a 4-years starter in basketball for Chillicothe High School’s Hornets, including being selected to the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association’s Class 3 All-State team his senior year. He finished his hardwoods career with 1,643 points, fourth-most in program history.

In high school baseball togs, he was no diamond-in-the-rough, but a talented, productive performer right from the start.

In the opening game of his freshman season, CHS coach Canaan Fairley had Brandsgaard batting in the cleanup spot and playing third base in a victory over Savannah’s always-strong squad.

He got his first Hornets hit as the cleanup man in the next game, which had him starting in center field, before really announcing himself in the fourth game of the 2017 season.

With CHS visiting Trenton’s brand-new team on March 21, Fairley used the opportunity against the inexperience foe to give his youngster his first exposure as a pitcher. It went well.

Against the understandably-overmatched Bulldogs, Brandsgaard struck out the first THS batter. And the second. And the third. And the fourth, fifth (who reached safely on a dropped third strike), sixth, seventh, and on and on.

With the Hornets scoring twice in the second inning, five times in the third, and six more times in the fourth, it was virtually certain the game would end after five innings on the 10-runs-lead rule. The questions were whether Trenton would ever get a ball put in play against the Chillicothe ninth grader and whether it would manage a hit.

When Brandsgaard recorded his 11th, 12th and 13th strikeouts of the game during a 1-2-3 fourth inning, he stood only three batters away from not only a no-hitter and shutout in his high school debut, but a stunning and overwhelming all-strikeouts, no-walks masterpiece remarkable even against an opponent playing its first-ever prep game.

Returning to the Burleigh Grimes Field mound for the bottom of the fifth innings with a 16-0 lead, the young right-hander got ahead of the first Trenton batter 1-2, only to see the uninterrupted string of whiffs end when the next offering was lined to classmate Jaden Winder in right field for the first out.

After earning an 0-2 count on the next batter before a foul ball kept the Bulldog alive, another delivery was sent in the air to the outfield, this time tracked down by center fielder Ty Figg. While the all-strikeouts gem had been spoiled, Brandsgaard stood one out – potentially one batter – away from making a freshman-year varsity debut as a pitcher with a no-hitter and near-perfect game.

However, even that slipped through his fingers when, on a 0-1 pitch, the No. 7 batter in the THS lineup used Brandsgaard’s velocity against him, sending a drive over Winder’s head in right for a double.

Unperturbed, the CHS hurler jumped ahead of the next man with two quick strikes. After a ball, the Bulldogs batter fouled off three pitches in a row before a called third strike ended the game with Brandsgaard’s 14th “K” of the day.

Brandsgaard would go on to post a 5-1 record and 0.88 earned run average in 40 innings on the mound while batting a respectable .267 that spring as the Hornets earned the Midland Empire Conference championship.

His sophomore season saw him and Winder regularly form the pitching-catching battery, alternating between the spots, but the every-pitch use of his arm eventually led to soreness for both which diminished their effectiveness and limited their availability as pitchers during their junior seasons. At the start of this summer with the Mudcats, Brandsgaard told the C-T that the lack of a 2020 season had helped rest the arm and right shoulder to where he could throw without pain for the first time in four years.

While his sophomore-year pitching stats for the Hornets were markedly poorer (2-4 record, 2.30 ERA), the left-handed hitter with the keen eye became a force with the bat.

He led the 13-11 2018 squad with a .403 batting average, a whopping .598 on-base rate, and .548 slugging rate, as well as in hits (25), doubles (9), runs scored (16), and times hit by a pitch (16). For that performance, he was chosen to the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association’s All-State second team as a catcher.

In what turned out to be his last season as a baseball Hornet, although no one knew it at the time, Brandsgaard’s throwing arm and shoulder pain precluded him from pitching, a major factor in the drop to a 5-15 team mark. However, he still swung the bat with a vengeance.

In 71 plate appearances across the 20 games, he smacked 27 hits in 59 official at-bats for a team-leading .458 batting average. He waited out seven walks and was hit by three pitches, leading to a team-best .507 on-base rate, and drove in a Hornets-high 11 runs.

His most astounding stat that season, however, was that – in those 71 times at the plate – he struck out merely twice.

What promised to be a strong, bounce-back year for what would have been a very experienced 2020 Hornets team led by Brandsgaard in his senior year instead never came to be, likely preventing Brandsgaard from clearly establishing himself as the best Hornets baseball player thus far. However an argument could still be made for him having that distinction even without that final season.