Baseball: Slammers have Alabama-Huntsville connection in Grant DeBruin and Andrew Busby
By Tim Tierney For Sun-Times Media August 4, 2014 9:22PM
Joliet Slammers pitcher Andrew Busby (left) and Grant DeBruin, the team's top hitter, played at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. | Tim Tierney/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 6, 2014 6:24AM
The baseball program at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, as one fictional TV character might have mouthed, has been very, very good to the Joliet Slammers.
Grant DeBruin, who’s among the top hitters in the Frontier League, and Andrew Busby, a starting pitcher for the Slammers, both are proud UAH products.
“Grant’s a legend around Huntsville,’’ Busby said with a smile, sitting next to DeBruin in the dugout before a recent game at Silver Cross Field. “I’ve known Grant for a while. I played against Grant in junior college.
“I had 10 strikeouts in a game and Grant was 3-for-4 off me with four RBI. He’s never going to let me live that one down for sure.’’
DeBruin went into Monday’s series finale against Schaumburg with a league-best .363 batting average. Busby leads the Slammers in starts (13) and innings pitched (75).
The 24-year-old DeBruin is in his second full season with Joliet after two years at Alabama-Hunstville.
“My senior year we went to (NCAA) regionals. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go because I had broken my ankle and had to have surgery,’’ DeBruin said. “We had a great run that year, made it to the conference championship tournament.’’
Busby had two years at Mississippi State that didn’t work out before he transferred to UAH for his final college season.
“I was only there for a year, but I felt like they gave me another opportunity to kind of reinvent myself, another shot at pitching,’’ Busby said.
“The biggest thing I got out of Huntsville was family. Everybody is close there. I got a second chance to really prove to myself that I was capable of doing some things.’’
DeBruin agreed with Busby’s description of the surroundings at UAH.
“It’s definitely a family atmosphere in Huntsville,’’ he said. “Everything you go through, from 6 a.m. workouts to what coach (Hunter) Royer calls the ‘Ninth-inning program,’ mental toughness. You have to bond together or you’re going to fall apart.’’
DeBruin didn’t fall apart last season with Joliet, but he went from having a hot start to finishing with a .231 batting average.
Although playing close to 100 games instead of 50 or so in college was a drain in his first pro season, DeBruin has another reason for his prolonged success this year.
“I feel a new level of maturity showed up this year, putting more responsibility on myself, working a lot harder,’’ he said. “My work ethic is a lot better this year.’’
Busby signed with the Slammers during last season and he went 0-6 with a 3.07 ERA in 10 games. Opponents hit just .234 against him.
“The only thing I really could do was go home and work my tail off,’’ Busby said. “I give ‘Ice’ (manager Jeff Isom) and Pascual (Santiago) the credit for giving me a chance to come back and prove myself. This year hasn’t gone my way a lot, but it’s baseball. It’s a good opportunity to be here.’’
It’s possible DeBruin may not be around all season. As for why his contract hasn’t been purchased yet by a major league organization, the Slammers’ infielder isn’t losing sleep over it.
“I feel like my teammates worry more about that than I do,’’ he said. “I get asked by our guys, opposing teams, ‘What are you still doing here?’ All I can do is what I’m doing, hope somebody takes notice and wants to give me an opportunity.’’
For now, music still reminds the Alabama-Huntsville pair of their ties to the South. For DeBruin, it’s “The South’’ by Cadillac Three when he comes to the plate. When Busby pitches, it’s Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.’’
“They play it at the start of the game,’’ said Busby, an Alabama native. “It gives me chills every time I go out there.’’