Living in Yuba City, Brock Stassi grew up a Giants fan. In a family built around baseball, including younger brother Max who is a catcher for the Astros, one day being a Giant was a dream he set out on from an early age. How he became one step away from it being a reality five days after his 29th birthday, is an even wilder story than he could have imagined as a kid.
“I was actually about to go down to Mexico City to play in the Mexican League,” Stassi said over the phone laughing at the story. “I think I had three or four hours until my flight and then I got a call from my Indy Ball manager and he said, ‘Hey, have you left for Mexico yet because the Giants want to sign you.’ And then my agent called me right after.
“It was a pretty crazy two hours.”
Stassi is right at home with the Sacramento River Cats, the Giants’ Triple-A team, and it’s showing on the field. Through nine games, he is batting .444 with a 1.139 OPS. While he’s excelling on the field, he certainly took the long way home.
Before last season, Stassi was baseball’s feel-good story when the former 33rd-round draft pick made the Phillies’ Opening Day roster. Then he was designated for assignment by Philadelphia after 51 games in the majors and elected free agency in the offseason. The first baseman signed a minor league contract with the Twins in December last year and spent the start of the 2018 season with their Triple-A affiliate in Rochester. Again Stassi hit another bump in the road — the Twins released Stassi on May 25 after 32 games and only a .211 batting average in Triple-A.
“I came home and cleared my mind,” Stassi said. “I was home for three weeks and didn’t get picked up and knew that I still had a lot left in the tank, so Indy Ball was the route I went.”
Back home, Stassi and his father Jim went back to the basics. Throughout his life on and off the field, Brock has always turned to Jim when he’s needed him most. Jim taught both Brock and Max how to play the game and coached them at Yuba City High School, where he is still a teacher.
“It’s been everything,” Stassi says about his father’s influence on his life. “I can talk to my dad about anything whether it be baseball or not. He’s still up in Yuba teaching, so I can always drive the 20 minutes and go hit or he’ll drive the 20 minutes to Lincoln [where Brock lives in the offseason] and we’ll go hit at some cages.
“He throws great BP. It’s been great being able to have him to bounce things off of.”
This season, and years past, have taken twists and turns for Stassi on the field. He’s never let that get in the way of following the career of his younger brother Max, who he calls his best friend.
“Me and Max talk every day whether it be about the games, hitting or whatever. We’re best friends so we talk every day,” Stassi said.
In June, the elder Stassi found himself back on the field, this time with the New Britain Bees of the Atlantic League. Playing Independent Baseball is far from Triple-A and can feel like a different planet than Major League Baseball at times. It was exactly what Stassi needed to get back on track.
“It was really a blessing that I was able to go to Indy Ball,” Stassi said. “I got some things right, got the confidence back and I’m able to keep that same confidence while I’m here.”
With a clear mind where he worked mentally on staying back on pitches, Stassi dominated his competition in the Atlantic League. In 40 games, he hit .361 with five home runs and a 1.049 OPS.
Independent Baseball is a grind. The morning of a night game, you will take a five-hour bus ride, get off and go play. Everything you get out of Indy Ball is from what you put into it. There is no strict schedule with a coach watching your every move. If you don’t want to stretch, you don’t want to play catch, you don’t want to hit on your own — the work is up to you.
Stassi put in the work and regained his love for the game.
“I think after being in affiliated ball for so long, up until this year, I hate to admit, but I took a lot of stuff for granted,” Stassi said. “Going to Indy Ball kind of made me realize how nice you have it, even in the minor leagues. The big leagues, it speaks for itself but the minors I kind of took it for granted the past few years.”
The River Cats have played two home games since the Giants signed him on Aug. 12. Stasi still remembers going to River Cats games when Raley Field first opened as a kid and says he had about 35 friends and family in the stands for that first game against El Paso, where he went 3-for-4 with a double. September is coming up, but he’s far more concerned with Sacramento than San Francisco.
“It’s been unreal playing back home,” Stassi said. “I’m just enjoying each and every day and making Sacramento my big leagues for the time being. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”
For ages, coaches have reminded players that baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. Brock Stassi’s race has taken him from the Philadelphia Phillies, to the Reading Fightin Phils, to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Rochester Red Wings, New Britain Bees, Sacramento River Cats, and almost Mexico City all in the last two years. Back home in Sacramento, he’s focused on the now as San Francisco is one step away, using the lesson he’s truly learned this year.
“Don’t take a single day for granted because I got off a bus at 3:30 a.m. and was told I was being released that morning. Don’t take any day for granted. Don’t take any AB for granted.
“Show up and work hard.”