Tonawanda News — Ricky Brooks, perhaps the most decorated baseball player in North Tonawanda Lumberjacks history, announced his retirement from baseball after an eight-year professional career which saw him reach as far as AAA Colorado Springs last season.
“I haven’t gotten any calls,’ Brooks said. “With everything going on in my life, I knew it was time to start something new.”
Brooks, 28, signed with the Chicago White Sox following his sophomore season at East Carolina University after being drafted in the third ground of the 2003 draft. The White Sox drafted him in the 11th round of the 2005 draft, but he opted to attend East Carolina instead.
Brooks was as decorated as he was successful at North Tonawanda High School. In his senior season, he was on teams that won the sectional titles in football, hockey and baseball.
“He was the ultimate team player,” said John Chiarmonte, Brooks’ high school coach. “We had an extra-inning game against Niagara Falls and we were almost out of pitchers and he came up to me and said ‘I’m available if you need me’ and he had just pitched the day before. He always put the team first.”
“When you looked at Ricky, here was a kid that was always around winning teams,” said Chicago White Sox special assistant to the general manager Bill Scherrer, a Tonawanda native who spent seven seasons in the major leagues. “He was a rangy, athletic kid, and you knew once he grew into strength he was going to be someone you’d want to develop.”
With the Pirates, Brooks was an immediate starter, and in his second season, threw the first nine-inning no-hitter in Conference USA history. The only thing separating Brooks from a perfect game was a strikeout that got away from the catcher and allowed the batter to reach base. Brooks considers this the highlight of his career.
“Yeah, that was the best moment,’ he said. “I loved my time there, I would go back in a hurry and help that team if they ever needed me.”
Brooks finished his college career with a 7-8 mark with a 4.38 ERA.
With the White Sox, he toiled in A ball until 2009, when he had a breakout season with AA Birmingham. Being used out of the bullpen, Brooks went 3-1 with a 2.68 ERA in 25 appearances.
In 2010, Brooks was brought along with the parent White Sox to a spring training game against the Angels in Tempe, Ariz. He wasn’t scheduled to pitch, but when closer Bobby Jenks went over his pitch count for the game, Brooks was summoned to retire Bobby Abreu. It was an appearance that was met with comedic indifference by his major league teammates that day.
“I’m running from the bullpen, and (acting manager in the split squad game) Joey Cora asks the rest of the infield ‘who is this guy?’. And they all shrug their shoulders and say ‘we have no idea,’” Brooks recalls with a laugh. “I love telling the story.”
In a weird twist of fate, calling balls and strikes behind the plate that day was MLB umpire Ted Barrett, also from NT.
Following the 2010 season, he was picked up in the Rule 5 draft by the New York Mets and spent 2011 in Binghamton. He was in Camden of the independent Atlantic League in 2012 until the Colorado Rockies called, placing him in AAA Colorado Springs, where he pitched in relief and was an occasional spot-starter.
But, with no interest in 2013, and a baby on the way, Brooks knew it was time to move on.
“I didn’t make the big leagues, but I saw people that were drafted ahead of me didn’t make it as long as I did,” he said. “You can’t play forever. I learned so much and met a lot of great people. I knew it was time to start the next chapter, and I know something great is gonna happen.”
Brooks, who’s going back to school to get his degree in business, plans on coaching sometime in the near future, either at the high school or college level.
“I love giving back to the young kids,” he said. “My word holds a little more ground because of where I’ve been and I love to see the way they respond.”
“To make the major leagues, you need numbers, but you need a break or two along the way as well,” Scherrer said. “Just because you don’t make the major leagues, doesn’t mean you’ve failed. People don’t realize how hard it truly is to make it.
“Ricky had a long, successful career.”
Contact the Tonawanda News sports desk at 693-1000 ext. 4117.
and find TonawandaContact the Tonawanda News sports desk at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.