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MIKE CLARK: Pishkur thrilled to watch his former players in AL wild card game
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MIKE CLARK: Pishkur thrilled to watch his former players in AL wild card game

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Dave Pishkur is one of the Region's biggest Cubs fans, a guy who named his son after Ryne Sandberg.

But as much as the longtime Andrean baseball coach lives and dies with his favorite MLB team, it's nothing on how he felt about the American League wild-card game Wednesday.

The reason? Two of Pishkur's former players — Tampa Bay utility man extraordinaire Mike Brosseau and Oakland pitcher Sean Manaea — were playing in the same game, nine years after they were teammates at 5959 Broadway.

"It was really exciting but really nerve-wracking," Pishkur said. "It's a lot different when you know somebody personally, compared to watching 162 Cubs games. I don't know those guys."

What made Wednesday's 59ers reunion more remarkable was the fact that neither Manaea nor Brosseau was around back on opening day.

Manaea spent most of the season rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery before making a brilliant return in September: 4-0, 1.21 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 30 strikeouts in 30 innings.

Brosseau started his seventh pro season at Class AAA Durham before making his big-league debut on June 23. In 50 regular-season game with the Rays, he batted .273 with six homers and 16 RBIs.

As the season wound down, Pishkur had a feeling his guys might be on a collision course. He considered going to the wild-card game. But the A's decision to start Manaea over Mike Fiers came down to the wire and Brosseau's status on the Rays' playoff roster was in doubt as well.

So like the rest of us, Pishkur was watching on TV when Manaea and Brosseau faced each other in the top of the second inning. Manaea, who was a senior when Brosseau was a sophomore in 2010, fanned his old teammate.

The Rays wound up winning 5-1 as Manaea took the loss, allowing three home runs and four earned runs in two innings. But the lefty also struck out five, showing the stuff that earned him manager Bob Melvin's trust.

"I'm sure he's not back to full strength, probably was a little pumped up," Pishkur said.

Pishkur called Manaea the next day, not expecting an answer and figuring to leave a pick-me-up message.

But Manaea, who took responsibility for the loss when he met the media after the game, was a stand-up guy on Thursday, too. He had time to talk to his old coach, because that's who he is.

"He was in good spirits the next day," Pishkur said. "I don't know if I would have been."

Brosseau was feeling good, too, after not only making the Rays' roster for the wild-card game, but starting to boot. Pishkur didn't know about that last part until the day of the game.

It gets even better: Brosseau made MLB postseason history by becoming the first player to see action at three positions — second base, third and first — in the same game.

It's another twist in the story of a player who signed a $1,000 free-agent contract after going undrafted out of Oakland University. Brosseau's rise is a tribute to his work ethic, as he's gone from being a 165-pound sophomore starting at Andrean to a 215-pound jack-of-all-trades in the mold of former Ray turned Cubs hero Ben Zobrist.

"Mikey was a guy who was as smart as anybody on the field," Pishkur said.

The Rays saw that, acording to Pishkur, who said Brosseau has a standing invitation to join the Tampa Bay organization as a coach when his playing days are done.

For now, though Brosseau and Manaea have a lot of baseball ahead of them. Like Pishkur, we'll be along for the ride.

Mike Clark can be reached at (219) 933-4197 or michael.clark@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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