BOSTON — Two catchers from last year’s Portland Sea Dogs team walked onto the Fenway Park grass, both part of the first batting practice group.

Blake Swihart carried his bat.

Mike Brenly held a bag of baseballs.

Settled in behind the protective screen, Brenly threw batting practice pitches to the likes of Swihart, Brock Holt and Sandy Leon.

Brenly, 28, loves baseball. It’s always been a part of his life, including a memorable time in 2001 watching his father, Bob Brenly, manage the Arizona Diamondbacks to a World Series title.

Mike Brenly played baseball in college and was his eighth season as a pro this year.



Mike Brenly will not be playing anymore.

“I couldn’t be happier with my decision,” he said.

Brenly, who last played for the Sea Dogs on May 3, has joined the Boston Red Sox staff as a bullpen catcher and coach-in-training.

Brenly, like so many minor leaguers who never play in the majors, approached a crossroads in his life – keep plugging away or move on.

“For me, it wasn’t as hard as you’d think to hang up the cleats,” Brenly said. “It was hard to leave the guys, obviously.


“But this is something I couldn’t pass up. It brings a little more stability to my personal life. It was something that just came at the right time for me.”

The opportunity arrived when the Red Sox had a vacancy in their bullpen. They didn’t want just a catcher but someone who could be groomed as a coach.

“We always liked him as a player and we saw the qualities of a coach in him,” said Mike Hazen, the Red Sox assistant general manager.

The Red Sox didn’t think Brenly, who was still playing, would be interested.

“He was a perfect candidate but we weren’t pushing it on him,” Boston General Manager Ben Cherington said. “We wanted to give him the opportunity to say no.

“Good guy. Great worker. Well-prepared. We knew he could come up and handle the environment.”


A major league environment is nothing new for Brenly because of his dad. As a high school student in 2001, Mike Brenly put in extra credit work at school to be able to take off for certain playoff games, including World Series games in New York.

The games were memorable, but Brenly said visiting Ground Zero only seven weeks after the 9/11 tragedy was “life-changing.”

“There were still fires, firemen conducting searches,” Brenly said. “Unbelievable to see and definitely humbling.”

Brenly eventually witnessed the fickleness of pro baseball. His father, celebrated for a championship in 2001, was fired in 2004.

Pro baseball beckoned Mike in 2005, when the Cubs drafted him in the 43rd round. He turned them down to play for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. The Cubs picked him again in 2008, in the 36th round, and Brenly signed.

With stops in Boise, Peoria and Daytona Beach, Brenly reached Double-A Tennessee in 2012. He batted .227 in 84 games. Before the 2013 season he was released.


“When the Cubs let me go and the phone didn’t ring for a couple of months, I thought maybe that was it,” Brenly said.

By then Brenly was married, to Elisa, and had to think of alternatives.

“When you’re single and playing ball, you have no cares in the world,” he said. “But when you’re married and talk about starting a family … The time to think about the rest of your life comes up quicker.”

Then the Red Sox called before the 2014 season with a minor league offer. It was a chance to be in uniform but not necessarily play. He would be the third catcher in Portland, behind another veteran, Matt Spring, and Swihart, the touted prospect who had received a $2.5 million signing bonus.

It was obvious who would get the playing time.

“From the very first day we got to Portland, Spring and I had an understanding. We knew what we were there for – we were there to babysit Swihart, to help him out and teach him things,” Brenly said.


“Spring and I checked our egos at the door and were able to help each other as well.”

Brenly got into 46 games last year, batting .168.

While Swihart and Spring moved on to Triple-A and Swihart eventually to Boston, Brenly remained in Portland in 2015, backing up veteran Luis Martinez.

Brenly thought about coaching but still liked to play. Then, in early May, with the Sea Dogs on the road in Reading, Pennsylvania, Manager Billy McMillon called Brenly into his office.

“Obviously your first thought, as an older guy, is ‘uh-oh, I’m getting released,’ but Billy said it wasn’t something bad,” Brenly said.

Brenly got the offer to join the Red Sox staff.


“It was the perfect time for me,” Brenly said. “To be able to jump up here and learn was a no-brainer.

“When I was a kid, I definitely wanted to play (in the majors). Not everyone is going to be a big leaguer. That’s fine. This might be an avenue to stay in the game. Coach and maybe help with someone else’s career.”

Now Brenly is adjusting.

“Been a few times here and there I get the itch to go out there,” Brenly said. “I’ll watch Swihart get ready for a game and I remember that excitement of getting out there.

“But you know, it’s something you can experience as a coach as well. Just because you’re not out there grinding it on the field doesn’t mean you can’t feel that excitement and the crowd and a little pressure. It’s definitely still there.”

The playing days are over.

Baseball remains in Mike Brenly’s blood.


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