For Muhlenberg College catcher Brett Rosen, it seemed that the 2011 baseball season would be a short one when less than two-fifths of the way through the 38-game NCAA Division III schedule he received news that he had a glandular fever infection. Despite 2011 being his freshman year, he’d seen time behind the dish in seven of those first 15 games; however, the news brought a sudden end to that promising start.
The diagnosis ruled out practice and exercise for Brett during his 2-month recovery period. It also ruled out a proposed scouting visit by GB Head Coach Sam Dempster. Brett, whose home is in New Rochelle, NY, holds dual-nationality for the United States and Great Britain. His mother, Gay, grew up in England but she moved to the States as a teenager.
There was to be better news for Brett , though, as he soon returned to full health and was offered a one-on-one tryout with former GB Head Coach Stephan Rapaglia (whose home is not too far from New Rochelle). The tryout went well enough for Brett to earn a spot on the roster for GB’s European Championship qualifying tournament in Tel Aviv, Israel, later this month.
With GB selected to play in the World Baseball Classic qualifier next year, nothing less than a top-placed finish in the qualifying group will be demanded by the coaching staff. Lithuania, Georgia, and Israel might seem like relatively easy opposition for the silver medallists from the 2007 Euros, but many European national teams are prone to marked fluctuations in the talent level of the players available to them for a given tournament. The challenge, therefore, cannot be taken lightly, but taking baseball lightly is not in Brett’s character.
Much of Brett’s free time is spent practising and working out, and his current daily routine mixes sessions in the batting cage, at the gym, and as a coach at a baseball camp, and he even fits in games for a local team, the Pelham Mets (he was scouted for that team during his GB tryout, and he benefits as the youngster on the Mets squad from the experience of many former pros and college players). The catcher is viewing the chance to compete on the international stage as something very different from the ball he has played to date. “The intimidation and pressure will definitely be bigger than college ball because instead of representing a school I am representing a country,” he told BaseballGB.
Brett will be able to turn to his older brother AJ for advice on this matter, as his sibling is a seasoned competitor for Great Britain, albeit in a very different discipline: as a luge slider. AJ’s first major achievement in the sport of luge was a 16th-placed finish at the 2006 Winter Olympics, in Turin. But in a sport where state-of-the-art equipment is needed to penetrate the list of best times, AJ has never received the funding he has needed to compete on a level playing field (or perhaps “similarly sloped track” is a more apt metaphor for this ice-track event).
As proof of this, when lent more advanced equipment (a Canadian training sled fitted with high-tech German steels) he achieved GB’s best-ever placing in an international competition, sliding into the pool of elite athletes with sixth place at the World Cup in Calgary in early 2009. The funding problems remained, however, which meant that AJ had to make the most of any opportunities for practice that came his way.
Most of AJ’s peers would limit themselves to two or three runs a day, owing to the strenuous nature of the sport. But, nursing a meagre budget, AJ pushed himself down the track seven times on a training day in late 2009 on his sub-par sled, and this was at the notoriously treacherous track at Whistler. Suffering from fatigue, AJ made a mistake on the next run and suffered a crash in which he twisted his leg out of the socket and tore muscle tissue in his upper leg. He was advised that it would take 2 years to return to competition fitness, but AJ’s determination and a top-grade rehabilitation programme at Bisham Abbey fast-tracked him back to a state in which he was able to qualify for the 2010 Winter Olympics just 4 weeks later. In Vancouver he matched his Turin performance, breaking into the top 50% with 16th place, but he might have fared better on the full track. Following the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on a practice run, the track was shortened, which was a move that AJ supported, even though it worked against his chances of a top-ten finish. In Vancouver, AJ was very grateful for a donation of $5000 from Russ Malkin (of Big Earth), which allowed him to make improvements to the sled that he’d crashed on, including fitting some new steels.
But now the parched budget has totally dried up, owing to a change in criteria for the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme and a “no compromise” policy for funding only those Olympic sports in which there is a good chance of podium placings. The similarity with British baseball is apparent here, although the Olympic funding for this team sport disappeared when it was voted out of programme during the same meeting at which London was awarded the 2012 Games. Another similarity with baseball is that luge has some British roots, which makes the absence of funding even more disappointing for those involved.
AJ and Brett’s parents have swallowed most of the expenditure needed to give AJ a chance at an international level, but now they have had to say that enough is enough. AJ is currently attempting to make the move to a similar winter discipline, the bobsleigh, but he cannot hide his frustration. In an interview for BaseballGB he commented that “to have achieved the level I did, and then having had to stop a sport that I truly enjoyed owing to lack of funding when I was looking forward to returning to those previous results prior to my injury — that was very disappointing.” Still, he will commit whole-heartedly to returning to international competition in his new discipline: “I have always given my best, and I will continue to do the same in whatever sport I might compete in,” he noted. AJ was also eager to add that “hearing the news that Brett will be competing in international competition makes me very proud of my younger brother.”
Brett, who still has many members of his extended family living in Britain, is excited about being able to connect with his heritage via baseball. During AJ’s international career to date, he has twice enjoyed the company of British Olympic Association patron Princess Anne at dinner, and he travelled England and continental Europe with other GB lugers.
As one would expect the brothers’ parents are delighted to now have a second son breaking through into a national team. Their father, Sidney, told BaseballGB that he is “extremely proud to have these two sons who are able to compete at such a high level in their two respective sports.” Moreover, if the qualifying tournament for the 2012 European Championships ends successfully, Sidney, his wife, and their oldest son, Mark, “do hope to be able to cheer on Team GB in person” in The Netherlands, he commented.