Healdsburg Prune Packers pitcher wows MLB team scouts
On July 15 at Healdsburg’s Rec Park, Brandon Poulson threw his first pitch and the dozen Major League Baseball scouts in the stands looked at their radar guns. Then they looked at each other, peeking over each other’s shoulders to see the other electronic numbers. Then they looked back at their radar guns. Nah, they all assumed. Must be a glitch. A sun spot probably. Or a cell phone with its ringer on loud. Something caused it. It happens.
But the radar read-out was the same for all of them: 96 miles an hour.
“And it was only a warm-up pitch,” said Elliott Strankman of the Minnesota Twins. “I’ve never seen a 96 warmup pitch.”
The scouts now were leaning forward, intrigued. Poulson certainly looked the part of a power pitcher. He’s 6-foot-7, 230 pounds of lean meat, his body shape perfectly proportioned to deliver the five-ounce product - big shoulders, narrow hips, long arms and legs, every inch a pitching catapult.
But it was going to take more than one pitch for the scouts to think Poulson was the real deal. If Poulson was such a hot prospect, why wasn’t he drafted? Why was he pitching for the Healdsburg Prune Packers, a developmental team for aspiring high school and college players? Poulson didn’t even make Piner’s baseball team as a freshman. He became so discouraged Poulson stayed away from the game for most of the three years after his 2008 high school graduation. At 24, Poulson was pitching for Academy of Art University in San Francisco. The Urban Knights have yet to make it to the College World Series.
The hitters for the Nevada Big Horns stepped in, swung and soon stepped out. Poulson’s fastball hit 99 miles an hour; four times he did that on Strankman’s gun. The ball was over the plate, not bouncing off screens or catcher’s shin guards.
Poulson’s fastball never dipped below 96. The scouts went silent. They chase rumors all the time. Their radar guns are their weapons, ready to bring down rumors. They are a skeptical lot. To keep their jobs they need to be.
When Poulson finished that inning July 15, the scouts lined up, one behind the other, each one asking the same question, as Poulson remembers.
“What is going to take for you to sign with us?”
The Yankees, said Poulson, started with a $50,000 bid, increasing it to $100,000. The Phillies started at $70,000, went to $110,000, finally to $150,000. The A’s, Poulson said, went to $105,000, the Giants to $138,000. The Twins came in at $225,000. The Braves said they couldn’t beat $225,000.
Poulson said he heard the Red Sox, Astros, Nationals, Marlins and Cardinals wanted to schedule a tryout. The day after the Healdsburg performance the Twins called Poulson and said they could go up to $250,000. Poulson told Minnesota he felt he could get a $350,000-plus offer if he wanted to extend the bidding war.
“The Twins told me I had 30 minutes to make up my mind,” Poulson said.
There was one problem: Poulson was sitting in a patient’s chair at the office of Santa Rosa dentist Dr. Vicente Chavez. He was about to have a tooth extracted. The dentist and his assistants were ready to go to work. Poulson put up his hand as a stop sign. Wait, please. He could tell they weren’t pleased.
“I knew they thought I was a jerk,” he said.
Poulson called back the Twins and accepted the offer. He then told Dr. Chavez and his staff what happened. He was immediately forgiven. The doctor and his staff should have been there the day before in Healdsburg. They would have applauded then as well.
“It was the easiest 99 I have ever seen,” Strankman said. “To tell you the truth I was blown away. Brandon has the best pure arm strength I’ve ever seen. It was unbelievable actually.”
“Unbelievable” is a word used all too often in sports, to the point nothing is unbelievable anymore in the industry.
Except for how Brandon Poulson came to be a $250,000 prize.
His journey to this point is like this weird connect-the-dots puzzle that has no straight lines, no logical points that follow each other, nothing that makes a lick of sense. . . until last December. That’s when Poulson bumped into Riley Sullivan, one of the owners of the Prune Packers, at a Santa Rosa deli.
“That’s the day that changed everything for me,” Poulson said. He had pitched for the Prune Packers the previous summer but only sparingly. He missed more than two-thirds of the season working for his dad’s excavation business.
“Riley had lost my contact information, plus he thought I had quit baseball,” Poulson said. “And the players on the 2014 Prune Packers would be invitation only.”
But Brandon, Riley said, you have to come out. I got this manager, Joey Gomes, and their pitching coach, Caleb Balbuena, who really know their stuff. They can help you. Specifically they can help you find home plate.