J - The Michigan Daily - SPORTSMonday - Monday, April 10, 1995
Zontlnued from page l
was projected by Baseball America
o win Big Ten Player of the Year
nd was rated 19th among the top
00 college players in the country.
However, he hardly talks of
*dmself. Ask how his season is
, oing and he'll say: "We lost some
iig games but the Big Ten is what
:eally matters" or "we've got some
.ork to do."
Ask him what his goals are and
'ie'll say: "We just want to win the
3ig Ten and maybe look to
Grace doesn't know "L" He's
*nuch more comfortable talking
Behold Grace as he floats around
ie outfield, toting his rifle arm as a
.yarning to hitters who dare send a
.all his way. Simmons has above-
-verage speed and a good glove, but
is arm is reminiscent of legends.
Saturday, Simmons showed why
:t is compared to baseball's best. Penn
:state leftfielder Derek Bochna drilled
A line shot to center in the top of the
ifth during the first game of a
loubleheader. The ball flew over
'immons' head and Bochna looked
o have a sure stand-up triple.
Only a perfect throw, or a perfect
.hot from a rifle, could have nailed
°im. But Grace produced just that.
Simmons whirled around and took
:he ball off the 400-foot sign. Then,
Ae spun again, unleashing a 200-foot
rope to shortstop Ryan Van Oeveren
who completed the relay to third
baseman Kelly Dransfeldt. Bochna
was out on a feat only Grace himself
could have accomplished.
"He's a special player who
makes special plays," Freehan says.
"He has a lot of potential to go far."
Even Hall of Famers think so.
, r : :
Kaline pointed to Simmons'
body, six-foot-two and a cut 191
pounds, and his prowess in the field
as the tools that he himself carried
into his first training camp with
Detroit at age 18. The combination
of a quick release and carry on the
ball that Simmons has is rare.
Grace could carry those tools
into a professional organization as
soon as this summer.
Behold Grace as he connects,
using his Ted Williams swing,
sending the ball hurtling toward a
resting place only major leaguers
reach and most college players only
dream of. But Simmons is no
He won the Most Valuable
Player Award at the Hormel Foods
Baseball Classic in Minneapolis'
Metrodome March 3-5, even though
the Wolverines didn't win a single
game. Grace was red hot, and
glowed brightly enough to blot out
his team's misfortunes.
Simmons went 6-for-13 (.462)
with two doubles and 10 RBI in the
series, but his most Herculean feat
was the three home runs he belted
in three games. They would have
made his favorite player, three-time
National League MVP Barry
Against Minnesota in the first
match-up of the three-game set,
Simmons hit two home runs while
going three-for-four. One went off the
scoreboard and the other landed in the
upper deck, but his team lost 7-4.
"He was tremendous in
When Michigan was on its spring
trip to Florida two years ago,
Freehan's friend and former Detroit
Tiger Al Kaline was watching
Simmons throw in warm-ups.
Kaline, who patrolled rightfield
for Detroit in his distinguished career,
turned to Freehan and said, "Do you
know who he reminds me of?"
"Who?" Freehan replied.
"Myself, when I was his age,"
Minnesota," Freehan says. "He hit
two huge home runs, but we still
lost the game. So he came back and
did well the rest of the series, and
even though we didn't win again,
he was still the best player there."
Just don't ask Simmons about his
performance. The only bit of pride
that ekes out of the "but we lost" and
"we could have done better"
comments is the admission that "it
sure felt good" to trot around the
bases at a major league stadium.
But he has been here before. No
big deal. Simmons has contributed
at the plate since his first hit against
Florida in 1993. It is still one of his
favorite games, and it is one of the
most telling about him.
Simmons started his first game
in a Michigan uniform, playing
center and batting in the third spot.
In his first at-bat, he faced Gator
Mark Valdez, now a minor-leaguer,
and lined a single up the middle for
his first career hit and the
Wolverines' first hit of the season.
"It was a great game," Simmons
says. "Here I am, hitting in the
three-hole in my first game and I'm
facing this good pitcher. Then I got
a hit, and' in the third inning, I got
another, a double."
He hasn't looked back since -
which is exactly what Freehan and
Michigan wanted. Freehan said he
thrust Simmons into the fray at once
because the Wolverines needed a
clean, youthful resurgence after
being hit with sanctions by the
NCAA for problems under former
coach Bud Middaugh.
Michigan baseball needed
Grace, and he has come through.
Simmons has been one of the
Wolverines' most consistent hitters.
He hit .293 in 1993, .284 in 1994
and is hitting .288 for his career.
This season, he leads the team in
just about every offensive category.
He's on top in hits (33), triples (3),
home runs (7), total bases (66), RBI
(27) and slugging percentage (.641).
He is second in batting average
"What can you say," Freehan
says. "He goes out every day, works
hard and gets the job done."
As only Grace can.
Behold Grace as he sits on the
baseball lounge couch, wearing his
favorite Pittsburgh Pirates cap, trying
to find words to describe himself. His
humility is almost astounding as he
points to his past as the reason for his
Simmons grew up in Peters
Township, Penn., not far from
Pittsburgh, and learned baseball
under the tutelage of his father. Del
Simmons, who earned three varsity
Brian Simmons swings for the fences against Penn State.
letters for wrestling at Slippery
Rock, coached baseball at nearby
Mount Lebanon H.S. and helped
Brian with his athletic skills.
It was Del who taught Brian
how to switch-hit, how to run the
bases and how to handle himself on
and off the field.
"My father was definitely the
biggest influence on my baseball
career," Simmons says. "He got me
to start switch-hitting when I was
12, and when I started doing it in
games at 15, I was way ahead of
Del's teaching culminated in
Brian's senior season at Peters
Township H.S., where he hit .542
and was drafted by the Baltimore
Orioles as a shortstop. The summer
before, Simmons had played in the
American Legion All-Star Game at
Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.
The recruiting letters started
pouring in as well. Simmons
considered Notre Dame, Penn State,
Clemson and West Point.
His brother David had played
baseball for Army and told him of the
advantages of West Point. Simmons
thought about attending - he had
been accepted - but declined.
"I would have thought about it
more if I could have gone pro after
playing there," Simmons says. "But
the five-year commitment would
have prevented that."
So he came to Michigan to learn
about discipline. But it hasn't
seemed that he's needed to work at
it much. Discipline has come easy
to Grace, and he feels baseball
lends itself to that.
"The game is so mental,"
Simmons says. "It teaches you to
control your emotions ... you can't
let them get the best of you. So when
I do things in my life, I try to take that
into consideration. You have to
control yourself and you can't hurt
other people to get what you want."
Freehan feels Simmons'
maturity stems from his upbringing.
"He's grown a lot this year, and
it's a tribute to his parents,"
Freehan says. "I'm very proud of
him because academically and
athletically, he embodies everything
Michigan athletics should be.
Sometimes you just have to look at
him and appreciate what he has
done and who he is."
Sometimes, you just have to
Michigan's Brian Simmons makes a diving catch against Ohio State during last year's Big Ten playoffs.
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