of Albuquerque Academy (N.M.)
eats, sleeps and breaths the game of baseball.
"He hits baseballs, on average, five to six hours a day," Academy fifth-year coach Josue Ayala said of last year's New Mexico State Player of the Year. "He hits before practice, during practice and then with a hitting instructor two hours a night. And I don't mean just during the week, we're talking seven days a week."
Ayala punctuated his superstar's commitment to the sport with a Thanksgiving story.
"I stopped at his house and he was writing an essay that was due the next day," Ayala recalled. "And he was doing it in his shin guards. When I asked him why, he said, ‘I need to work on my squatting flexibility so I can get lower when I'm framing my pitches.' So he was squatting and writing at the same time for three hours. That's the difference between great and phenomenal players."
It would appear that nothing could stop the 6-foot, 188-pound Bregman from playing the game he fell in love with as a 4-year-old.
That is, except a bad hop during a pregame warmup.
"It hit my finger and I picked the ball up and threw it to first because we were taking groundballs and then was like, ‘That hurt,'" said Bregman, who plays shortstop and catches for Academy. "But I played in the game and didn't find out until the next day that my right middle finger was broken."
Bregman, who bats and throws right-handed, was 3-for-4 at the plate in that game, the team's fifth. He hasn't played since, just one of a handful of stars who have also missed time this baseball season due to injury
"It kind of stinks, but that's baseball," an optimistic Bregman said. "Stuff like that's going to happen. I just have to stay positive and have the best, quickest recovery I can."
Ayala said he hopes to have his four-year starter back for the postseason tournament, where Academy (12-4) will go after the school's fourth state championship. As a freshman, Bregman hit .514, — striking out just four times in 115 at-bats — to lead the Chargers to the 2009 state championship.
Academy lost in last year's title game, and the bitter taste left in his mouth motivates Bregman even more.
"Winning a state title would mean everything to me," said Bregman, who this past fall led the USA Baseball 18U National Team to a gold medal at the 2011 IBAF World 'AA'/16U Youth Championships a year after guiding the 16U National Team to gold as Tournament MVP. "To win the state championship after everything we've worked for and have gone through would be amazing."
In the meantime, Bregman said he is keeping himself busy by helping the younger guys and contributing any way he can while he can't be on the field. He's also working on his speed by doing sprints and explosive work with the lower half of his core. He also does one-handed blocking drills to stay in catching shape.
"I'm doing anything I can to stay in the game until I can return," he said.
Bregman's teammates hope he can return. The three-time first team All-State selection had a .678 batting average as a junior and broke the New Mexico home run record with 19.
Those lofty stats attracted just about every major baseball program in the country and have attracted major league scouts throughout Bregman's high school career.
"Before he got hurt, we'd have eight or nine scouts at every game watching him," Ayala said.
After strongly considering Texas, North Carolina and New Mexico, Bregman signed a letter of intent to play at Louisiana State University, where he's projected to play shortstop.
"I fell in love with LSU," said Bregman, who wants to major in sports management. "I love the South and I really wanted to go down there. Once I got on campus I fell in love with it. I grew up watching them play in the College World Series. It was a dream school of mine and now it's a dream come true."
And what if he's a high draft pick in June's Major League Draft?
"I really don't have a feel," Bregman said. "I'm just trying to get healthy. I think it's still up in the air in all honesty. We'll see what happens, but I'm set on LSU unless something ridiculous happens."
If there is a decision to be made, his coach's advice is simple: "Be honest with yourself about what you really want to do."
What Bregman really wants to do now, he can't. But he's confident he will play again one day soon, if not with his high school team, either at LSU or in the pros.
"Some team is going to be very happy to have him," Ayala said. "His behavior and work ethic is the most contagious I've ever seen."
It's that tough mental work ethic that Bregman is relying on to get through his injury.
"This is the toughest test I've had to go through and I'm just trying to stay mentally strong and get through this and continue on with a long career," Bregman said. "I just have to stick to it and get to 100 percent and not rush back.
"I have a love for the game and am always doing something to get better at it. Not being able to do that constantly now is tough, but I have to deal with it and just get better."
Perhaps Ayala summed up his superstar's commitment to the game the best.
"He just loves life," he said. "But I think he loves baseball even more."Jon Buzby is the sports columnist for the Newark Post, a freelance writer, and on the broadcast team for the 1290AM The Ticket High School Football and Basketball Games of the Week. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.