Not too many people can say they saw the closest thing to a real life Crash Davis up close and in person during their childhood. But, as luck would have it, growing up in the Pacific Northwest, that’s exactly the treat I received every time I went to old Civic Stadium in Portland.
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The Portland Beavers, once of the Pacific Coast League, were one of the oldest baseball franchises on the west coast. Unfortunately, in Portland, people would rather attend soccer games than baseball, and several years ago, the Beavers ceased to exist. Classic Civic Stadium for awhile was called PGE Park, when it was a baseball stadium. Now? It’s Timbers Field or whatever the hell it’s called. Sorry, not much of a soccer fan, and to see a classic stadium converted to a soccer facility just makes me, well, nevermind.
The Beavers during my childhood of the 1980s and early 90s were the home of the Phillies’ Triple-A, then the Twins’ Triple-A squads. I got to see many, many great players come through Portland as both home and visiting players. My favorite? The aforementioned real life Davis, and his name was Bernardo Brito.
The 6’1″, 190-lb. outfielder was a flat out masher. I’m not talking three or four great minor league seasons. I’m talking one of the great minor league players of all-time. Don’t believe me? How does 295 career home runs sound, spanning over 17 seasons. “El Pupo”, or The Bellybutton in English, had eight-straight seasons of 20 or more home runs. He hit 29 bombs twice during his minor league career, the last coming in his second to last minor league season in 1994.
Brito’s career began in 1981 in the New York-Penn League, playing for Batavia. That first pro season, was the only one in which he failed to record a single long ball. Originally property of the Cleveland Indians, you’d think that the slugger would’ve seen the show, knowing how putrid baseball was at the big league level for the Tribe during the 1980s. However, it wasn’t until he joined the Twins’ organization that he received minimal exposure at the major league level, making his debut in 1992 for 8 games.
The following year, in 1993, Brito was given a little bit longer of an audition, where he hit .241/.255/.500 with 4 home runs and 9 driven in during 55 plate appearances. The strike season of 1994 didn’t see Brito on the Twins roster, and his big league career came to completion when baseball resumed in 1995, 5 more at-bats, and one more home run was it for Bernardo Brito. But what was he doing in the minors during those brief call-ups?
Seasons of 26, 20, 29, and 15 home runs respectively during that same time period for the Triple-A Beavers and Salt Lake City affiliate once the Twins left Portland.
Shortly after his 17th season of professional ball, and seeing that his shot at big league glory was most likely over, Brito took his talents overseas, and he began playing in Japan. Two more seasons of huge power–21, and 29 more home runs with 100 total RBI, proved that Brito was a legitimate power threat at any level.
For me, the Bernardo Brito experience was a more much personal one. Growing up watching him launch baseballs onto 18th Avenue in Portland, many of which went well past the Jantzen Beach lady on the left field wall, is something I’ll never forget. I got to know Brito on a personal level, and talked hitting with him for hours. We spoke of approach, staying within yourself, and just baseball in general. The ballpark would come alive every time his name was announced, and rarely, if ever, did he disappoint.