By Rubin E. Grant
Braxton Wetzler is once again enjoying the sounds of spring, especially the crack of the bat.
A year ago, after the Mountain Brook baseball team had gotten off to a 16-2 start, its season was shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wetzler was a junior on a squad that had 15 seniors. He felt bad for them when the season was halted.
“It was really tough,” Wetzler said. “At first we didn’t know whether we would play again. The seniors thought we would get back to playing again, then the rest of the season was canceled. That was a huge moment. I was lucky to have another season of baseball, but they weren’t.”
Wetzler, a stocky 6-foot, 235-pound right-handed pitcher and first baseman, is making the most of his final season with the Spartans.
He entered this week with a .378 batting average with seven doubles, three home runs and 23 runs batted in. On the mound, he had a 3-2 record with two saves and a 3.79 earned-run average, while he recorded 28 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings pitched.
“Braxton has done a lot for us, offensively, defensively and on the mound,” Mountain Brook coach Lee Gann said. “But he’s even more fantastic as a person and a leader. He leads by example and does a great job of getting the other players to rally around him.”
Wetzler’s leadership will be needed if the Spartans are to advance to the state playoffs. He is one of only four seniors on the team, joining third baseman Brock Payne, outfielder Tanner Plummer and pitcher Brennan Holden.
After having competed in one of the toughest areas in Class 7A – which included Vestavia Hills, Spain Park and Hewitt-Trussville – Mountain Brook has dropped down to Class 6A this season. But the competition didn’t drop off as they landed in Area 9, one of the strongest areas in Class 6A in the state. It includes Briarwood, Homewood and Chelsea. Briarwood (5A) and Chelsea (6A) were in the state finals in 2019.
Mountain Brook ended last week with a 16-10 overall record, but it was 0-2 in the area, with both losses coming to Chelsea. The Spartans were scheduled to play Briarwood twice this week, Tuesday at home and Thursday on the road. They play Homewood twice next week.
“We’re in a tough area and we’ve got a lot of young guys on the team,” Wetzler said. “We’re trying to get them to grow up fast. They’re doing a good job, but they have to step up and keep improving for us to win more games.”
Likes to Hit
Wetzler knows about stepping up. A two-sport standout, he anchored the defensive line on the Mountain Brook football team in the fall as a nose tackle. He recorded 56 total tackles and six tackles for loss, helping the Spartans reach the semifinals for the first time since 2010 and finish with a 12-2 record.
He was a four-year starter on the football team, spending his first two seasons on the offensive line before switching to defense.
Wetzler has been playing both sports since the third grade.
“It’s hard for me to say which one I like the best,” he said. “One you go out and hit someone as hard as you can and in the other you hit the ball as hard as you can.”
Unless something changes, Wetzler’s baseball career is likely over after high school.
“I’m thinking about walking on at Alabama and playing football,” Wetzler said, “but I haven’t made a final decision, yet.”
Gann said he will hate to see Wetzler graduate.
“He’s one of those guys who don’t come around too often, someone with a great personality and will do anything you ask,” Gann said. “I’m going to miss Braxton Wetzler.”