Sea Dogs second baseman Brett Netzer follows through on a swing in the first inning against Trenton Thunder at Hadlock Field. Portland Press Herald photo by Jill Brady

 

PORTLAND — Brett Netzer failed to get a hit Saturday for the Portland Sea Dogs. That’s only because the game against the Trenton Thunder at Hadlock Field was rained out.

Sea Dogs infielder Brett Netzer chats with a base coach while on first base in the fourth inning against the Trenton Thunder at Hadlock Field on Thursday. Portland Press Herald photo by Jill Brady

Netzer, a second baseman, doubled off the right-field wall on Opening Day and hasn’t stopped since. He’s collected at least one hit in all 11 starts and among regulars shares the team lead in batting average with shortstop C.J. Chatham at .326.

A third-round draft pick out of UNC Charlotte in June 2017, Netzer has quickly and quietly moved through the Boston Red Sox farm system with little fanfare.

Much of that is understandable, of course. He doesn’t hit for power (only two-minor league home runs). He’s not particularly fast (eight stolen bases in nearly 200 games). On defense he’s solid, if unspectacular.

Even so, at age 22 he finds himself already in Double-A, and having some success, in only his second full pro season.

He’s been really consistent swinging the bat,” said Sea Dogs Manager Joe Oliver, who also had Netzer last year at Class A Salem. “The biggest thing he learned last year was how long the full season was, and how much you have to prepare yourself for a five-month season.”

Netzer grew up in Maryland as an Orioles fan but with frequent forays to Fenway Park. His mom works as a flight attendant and his godfather — Ron Bumgarner, his dad’s childhood buddy — is a Red Sox vice president for ticketing.

“Me and my dad would hop on a plane and fly up,” Netzer said. “Free flight, free tickets and (Bumgarner) would take care of us up there. We would go up to Boston whenever we had time.”

After Netzer’s freshman year in high school, the family moved to South Carolina. He has an older and a younger sister, and also played soccer in high school. At UNCC he studied business before changing his major to communications and has a year left toward his degree.

“Nobody in my family has graduated from a four-year university, so that’s definitely something I would love to do in the future,” he said. “I’m not sure when. I don’t have a timetable for it.”

The Red Sox initially placed Netzer with short-season Lowell. After a month they promoted him to low-A Greenville, where he batted .429 in the playoffs to help the Drive win the 2017 South Atlantic League title.

Last year in the Carolina League with Salem was his first full pro season. As late as Aug. 7, Netzer was batting a robust .295. When the season ended a month later, his average had dropped to .270.

“My body actually felt just as good at the last game as it did at the beginning of the season,” Netzer said. “I took pride in my routine. My routine physically was the same every single day and that paid off.”

So what happened?

“I’m not ashamed to say that a 140-game season is a grind mentally,” he said. “There’s a lot of ups and downs, and it takes a toll on you. I rode that roller coaster a little bit last year.”

Coming out of high school, Netzer received only two scholarship offers, from UNCC and the College of Charleston. A shortstop in high school, Netzer initially found the college game too fast.

“I couldn’t field a ground ball when I got to college and the game sped up,” he said. “So I played left field (as a freshman).”

After his sophomore year, he earned a temporary contract with Wareham in the Cape Cod Summer League but was cut loose after a 2-for-18 start.

Fortunately for Netzer, he had an ally in Ron Polk, the former coach of the U.S. Olympic team who found a spot for him with Hyannis, where he flourished.

“I owe that whole summer to him,” Netzer said of Polk. “He stuck his neck out and gave me an opportunity.”

Netzer also learned a valuable lesson.

“That was the first time I had experienced failure in baseball,” he said. “And it wasn’t because of the talent level. It was just learning how to deal with the pressure of expectations and the pressure of being result-oriented.”

Now playing for the Sea Dogs two hours from Fenway, where the three men expected to handle second base — Dustin Pedroia, Brock Holt and Edward Nunez — are all on the injured list, Netzer would be inhuman if he were to ignore the possibility of a promotion, but he’s doing his best to stay off that particular roller coaster.

“As close as he is to Boston, he’s still far away,” Oliver said. “Those are things that are being looked at for the future. Is Pedroia going to be able to play with this injury that he’s had? But (Netzer) can’t focus on that. You have to take care of what’s here because it’s what you can control.”

“He’s just focusing on what he can handle,” said Sea Dogs coach Angel Sanchez, who also coached Netzer last year in Salem and was a middle infielder in the big leagues for the Royals, Astros and White Sox. “We talk about everything: life, baseball, how to take care of business. How good it is to play in the majors; how hard you have to work to get there.”

Last November, a tattoo artist inked two sayings on Netzer’s left arm. Above the bicep is written part of Psalm 27 – Of whom shall I be afraid? – and inside the forearm is It all starts with belief.

They serve as daily reminders to ignore the noise, block out the expectations and steer clear of the roller coaster.

“At the end of the day you have to have the confidence in yourself to go out and succeed,” Netzer said. “Believe in yourself. That’s what absolutely matters.”

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