Hall of Famer George Brett was the guest of honor at the 37th annual Bobby Dolan baseball dinner on Thursday night, but it wasn't his first trip to Northern Nevada.
“I've been to Reno once before," Brett said. "In 1972.”
It’s been nearly 50 years since his last trip to Reno, but the World Series champion and 13-time MLB All-Star enjoyed his return to The Biggest Little City in the World.
“I was playing for the San Jose Bees and we were playing the Reno Silver Sox and I haven't been back since,” Brett said. “Any time I get to come and do something to help young kids in their baseball pursuit, to play baseball in the major leagues and even academically, you take a look at this and one or two guys on this team might get drafted or go to the minor leagues. One or two might make it the major leagues. But I think more important for me being here is to stress the importance of education. They're here to play baseball, but they're also here to get an education, and that's what we hope to bring up tonight.”
Brett spent the afternoon with the Nevada baseball program, teaching the team lessons he’s learned throughout his career, which ran from 1973-93 after he was a second-round pick out of El Segundo (Calif.) High in 1971.
“I didn't have one college scholarship, but yet I was drafted to play professional baseball,” Brett said. “These guys all got college scholarships, so they're better than I was at this age. But just to go out there and give it your best, give it all you've got for as long as you can. And I told them today, when I got drafted, I gave myself five years to make it to the major leagues, and if I didn't make it to the major leagues in five years I was going to retire. Fortunately for me, I was drafted by the expansion ball club with the Kansas City Royals in 1971. They became a team in ’69. I got a chance to move up the ranks rather quickly, got to the big leagues at age 20 and was able to maintain my game for 20 years. Sometimes you got to pinch yourself. I told them it was a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication that went through that process and hopefully they have the same thing.”
Brett also stressed to the players the importance of listening to their coaches. Nevada is led by seventh-year head coach T.J. Bruce, who helped develop a number of big-leaguers at UCLA. His first Nevada product made the big leagues last season, that being TJ Friedl.
"I gave them some hitting tips, which nobody ever listens to anyways, but hopefully I'll get through to one of them and I told them some of my goals," Brett said. "No one was going to have more fun than me on the baseball field. No one was going to hustle more, and no one was going to try harder. And those are my goals every time I play, so it resonates with them. They'll go out there, have fun, still work hard, play hard, think positive. Baseball's a tough game. It's really a hard game because if you're a superstar, you fail seven out of 10 times, so you've got to learn to deal with those failures."
Baseball has been Brett's entire livelihood, and it’s not just the lessons during the game he deems as beneficial.
“I think the thing about baseball, it's teamwork," Brett said. "And you've got to be a team player. You've got to think of the team first. To me, it was always winning and losing. My performance came second. If I had a good game, if I went 3-for-4 and the team lost, I wasn't happy. If I went 0-for-4 and the team won, I was happy. I was going around congratulating the guys that played well. And if we won and I had a good game and a guy had a bad game, I was the guy over there patting them on the back. 'We'll get him tomorrow. Don't worry about it.'"
After his baseball career, Brett spent some time coaching and working in the Royals' front office. He became the owner of the minor-league Tri-City Dust Devils, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and High Desert Mavericks. The AP reported earlier Thursday that Major League Baseball is expanding its automated strike zones to the Triple-A level, a move Brett would rather no see come to the big leagues
“I kind of like umpires," Brett said. "I was telling the kids today a story that every time I'd walk up to home plate, the first at bat, I would dig my little hole in the back line. I would say hello to the catcher. If it was Carlton Fisk, I would say, 'Hello, Carlton,' and he always called 'Jorge.' And I would turn to the umpire and I'd say, 'How is my favorite umpire doing today?' And I like the human side of the game. Players make errors. Players make mistakes. Umpires are going to make mistakes. I think it's all part of the game. They’re going to implement it in the minor leagues and see how it does.
"I don't know if there will be an umpire. I don't know how it's going to work, but there will be an umpire back there and someone just going to say ‘strike’ or ‘ball’ in his ear, and he's going to do it. There'll be no arguing, but I don't know. It's going to be a interesting to see all these changes that baseball is trying to make, pitch clocks and all this stuff trying to speed up the game. I think the game has gotten longer, a lot more strikeouts, a lot less balls and play. They're trying to do things to appease the fans because I heard the fan base is dropping a little bit because the games are too boring now. Too many strikeouts and not enough balls in action. We'll see how it works in the minor leagues."
While college baseball is set to begin in just a few weeks, the major leagues remain in a lockout, something Brett hopes doesn't impact the 2022 season.
“I'm hoping they're both jockeying for position right now and sooner or later right before spring training starts, they have an agreement,” Brett said. “I've been through many of these in the 20 years I played. We went on strike, we were locked out and I can't even remember what we were on strike about. That's how important it was to me as a player. I just wanted to play. And I bet if you asked 90 percent of the players, they don't care about what's going on. They don't even care. They just want to go play baseball and get their paycheck. But the higher ups and the players union, they think it's important. Hopefully, baseball ownership, management and commissioner's office and the players association can get together and not have any type of work stoppage in spring training because I don't think the game will survive if it does. I really don’t.”