Male Comeback Player of the Year: Brandon Kregel, Baseball

Daniel J. Hilhorst

Sophomore outfielder Brandon Kregel rebounded from a wrist injury his freshman year to become the Crimson’s leading contributor at the plate. Kregel was one of three sophomores named second team All-Ivy.

In his very first Harvard baseball game his freshman year, outfielder Brandon Kregel suffered a wrist injury that ended up sidelining him for the rest of the season. Kregel’s stat line on the year: four at-bats and one hit.

The outfielder’s sophomore campaign could not have been more different. Kregel led the Crimson with a .288 batting average, posted a team-high 45 hits, including 17 for extra bases, and belted two home runs.

After only appearing in one game his freshman year, Kregel took the field for each of Harvard’s 41 contests this past season.

“I’m just happy that I can play again and get back into the swing of things,” Kregel said. “I’m really happy for that opportunity, and that’s what’s really driving me to be the best I can be going forward.”

Kregel’s wrist had bothered him in the weeks leading up to the first game of the 2012 campaign. When power hitters like Kregel swing the bat, they generate a large amount of torque, much of which is transferred into their wrists.

Constant wear and tear from swinging everyday weakened the area, Kregel said. He decided to give it a go in the first game of the year, and he started in right field and even smacked a home run in his third at-bat.

But in his next plate appearance, Kregel swung at a high fastball and broke a bone in his wrist while simultaneously damaging numerous tendons.

“Nobody really knew what happened, other than that I couldn’t swing or move my hand at all,” Kregel said. “But it ended up sidelining me all season, which was pretty devastating for me. It was pretty humbling as well. I mean, I’ve never been injured like that before, and it just shows that everything can be lost in a second, and it just makes me appreciate the game so much more.”

The recovery process extended from the end of that first game into the offseason, and the wrist healed quickly enough for Kregel to take some swings in the winter. He started his sophomore season in the same place as his last.

According to Kregel, although his wrist seemed to be at full physical strength, he needed more time to confidently swing like his old self and not approach the point of contact with shreds of doubt in his mind.

“It’s more probably a mental thing,” Kregel said. “I just didn’t want to re-injure it or do anything that would sideline me for the entire season. That would have been devastating…. As a result, I was still trying to find my swing, and it took awhile to get back into the rhythm of things and finally trust it so that I could swing normally and not have to worry about it breaking again.”

But Kregel quickly grew past his mental reservations and became the team’s top offensive contributor this spring. The outfielder hit consistently throughout the season, and he was named second-team All-Ivy.

Kregel’s contributions were not limited to the offensive end, as he emerged as a leader on a very young team with only three seniors.

“Brandon worked really hard in the offseason,” co-captain Robert Wineski said. “He told me that he really wanted to lead by example this year, and I think he really went out and proved a lot of people wrong when he came back and was the same player he was beforehand.”

Kregel became the centerpiece of Harvard’s lineup this season, consistently batting in the number three spot. The Lilburn, Ga., native came up big a number of times for the Crimson and led the team with 21 RBIs.

“When Brandon comes up with guys on base, you expect him to get that hit to knock guys in, and he did most of the time,” Wineski said. “He gave us a stability in our lineup that we needed…. When you see Brandon up there, you really think something good is going to happen.”

Despite improving leaps and bounds production-wise from his freshman year, Kregel still feels that he has much to work on. By putting the wrist injury behind him, Kregel can continue to work in the offseason and come back as a strong junior presence on next year’s Crimson squad.

“Relatively, I guess it was a pretty successful season,” Kregel said. “But at the same time I still have a lot of work to do, and I still have to improve in a lot of aspects…. It’s definitely still not where I need to be or where anybody else on our team needs to be, for that matter.”

—Staff writer David Steinbach can be reached at dsteinbach@college.harvard.edu.

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