Fans had cleared out, teammates were celebrating elsewhere and almost all action had ceased at the Bunn High School baseball field on a balmy night in late April.
Moments earlier, Bunn had finished off one of its most important victories of the season – a walk-off decision over rival South Granville that would ultimately propel the Wildcats to the Northern Carolina 2A Conference regular-season championship.
But Spencer Brickhouse’s tasks for the day had yet to be completed. At the request of four professional scouts, Brickhouse, Bunn’s senior star, had stuck around to take a round of post-game batting practice.
Suddenly, the incessant drone of crickets was overwhelmed by the sound of wood striking baseball – with ball after ball soaring into the darkness beyond the outfield fence.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
As drivers passed by on N.C. Highway 39 along the left-field side , they had no idea that one of their own – a Bunyan-esque lad from just down the road in the Franklin County community of Pilot – was participating in baseball’s own version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”
“I had no idea that the process worked like this,” Brickhouse said. “But you pretty much have to do what the scouts ask.”
Brickhouse, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound left-handed power hittter, is expected to be a high-round draft pick in the Major League Baseball Draft, which takes place Thursday through Saturday. When that moment occurs, Brickhouse will be faced with one of the most difficult decisions of his young life – sign with a professional team or spend three seasons at East Carolina, the school Brickhouse signed with last November.
“We don’t really have a monetary figure or anything like that,” Brickhouse said. “I will sit down with my family and my attorney (Wilson’s Earl Taylor), and we will weigh all our options. But I will say that it would be tough to say ‘no’ to (ECU coach Cliff Godwin). They have a winning mentality that I really like and would enjoy being a part of.”
ECU plays Texas Tech in the Lubbock, Texas, NCAA super regional this weekend.
Much of Brickhouse’s decision will be determined by which round he is selected in – and the guaranteed money that would accompany that choice. That’s where Taylor, a former summer-league coach of Brickhouse’s, will aid the family.
“We’ve heard everything from the third round to the seventh round – maybe even the second round,” said Bunn coach Chris Cullom. “But the truth is that nobody really knows because the last thing scouts want to do is tip their hand. It’s anybody’s guess what will happen at this point. You really don’t know.”
Brickhouse will go down as one of the most celebrated players in Franklin County, if not state-wide after batting .548 during his four-year career at Bunn – the second-highest total in the history of the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
Scouts don’t really say much about my position. They seem to be more interested in my hitting.
Bunn baseball star Spencer Brickhouse
As a senior, Brickhouse hit .516 with 13 homers, 38 RBIs, 39 runs scored, six doubles and two triples. Despite his power, Brickhouse batted leadoff for the Wildcats, mainly because Cullom wanted to see his star player get as many at-bats as possible, along with figuring that opposing pitchers wouldn’t deliberately walk the first batter of the game.
While Brickhouse is a natural hitter with power to all fields, where he would play in college or the pros is still open to debate. First base seems to be a natural home, but Brickhouse also spent time at catcher, pitcher and outfield during his time at Bunn.
“Scouts don’t really say much about my position,” Brickhouse said. “They seem to be more interested in my hitting.”
And for good reason. Ever since he was a youngster taking coach-pitch cuts from Quinton Sanders in the Bunn Youth Recreation League, Brickhouse was known for his longball heroics.
“In person, Spencer is the best hitter I have ever seen,” said Sanders, who was coaxed out of retirement to throw BP for Brickhouse after the victory over South Granville. “For Spencer, it was just a matter of his body growing into the size he has always had. And he is a very hard worker. You won’t hear of too many kids working out while his mom and dad are in the outfield, shagging the balls. Spencer and his family do that all of the time.”
If there is one thing Brickhouse has learned, it’s that his cell phone must be on at all times. While he was playing catch before a late-season Bunn practice, Brickhouse heard the phone vibrate in his pants pocket.
“The Marlins,” Brickhouse said as he scanned a number that he knew by heart. “Have to take this one.”
At times, Brickhouse seems oblivious to the pre-draft chaos that surrounds him on an everyday basis. He cherishes time with his family and teammates, knowing that – one way or another – he will be living elsewhere soon, either nearby in Greenville or near a to-be-determined Minor League team.
“Spencer has done well with all of the attention,” said Bunn senior catcher Josh Boone. “He is the most humble, recognizable person that I know. He will personally tell you that he is from Pilot, N.C., and is proud of that. And Pilot is even smaller than Bunn. Spencer is a great guy.”
Boone is right – there isn’t much to see in Pilot other than a church, a stop sign, a few gas stations and a brand-new dollar store. But Brickouse couldn’t have been more thrilled when, a few years ago, two baseball fields were built adjacent to his home as part of the Pilot Lions Park.
If you time your visit to Pilot correctly, you might find the oversized slugger taking cuts from his dad, Adrian, while Laura Brickhouse, Spencer’s mother, chases down the balls far beyond the right-field fence.
While most of his peers will be glued to their televisions Thursday watching the draft, Brickhouse will be doing what he loves best – playing baseball.
“I’m with the Wilson Post 13 team this summer in American Legion,” Brickhouse said. “We have a game in Holly Springs that night. I guess someone will have to call me if I get drafted.”
Brickhouse will be keeping his phone on during the game.
Just in case.