From NAIA JV to Division I MLB Draft Prospect: The Brandon Rembert Story
Make no mistake about it: Brandon Rembert’s ascension from the JV team at an NAIA college to Division I Alcorn State baseball player on the cusp of potentially being drafted is the type of content that Disney turns into a movie.
This is Jim Morris (The Rookie) going from high school science teacher to Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays pitcher at the age of 35.
This is 5’6” Rudy Ruettiger (Rudy) going from un-recruited high school football player with poor grades to sacking Georgia Tech quarterback Rudy Allen in the only game he ever actually played in for Notre Dame.
This is Vince Papale (Invincible) going from high school teacher to becoming the oldest non-kicker rookie in the history of the NFL (30 years old) when he suited up for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Brandon Rembert is living out those types of dreams.
On the surface, the story of Brandon Rembert appears to be a tale about a young man’s perseverance to achieve his life’s grandest dream.
However, upon closer examination, this is a story about a young man who’s greatest desire is to be a pioneer for others who might be looking to him for inspiration.
In an age where people are often more concerned with their own brand and image and likes and retweets, Brandon Rembert tells his story not so that his name is elevated but rather so that someone else might see his life trajectory and realize their own potential.
Brandon Rembert tells his story so that someone might see themselves represented in him.
Brandon Rembert tells his story so that “hopefully [it] can encourage and give hope to people”.
In an era where self-aggrandizement and putting forth the perfect cultivated image are the central aims of much of society, Rembert is more concerned with being a man of his word.
Our interview together is a perfect example. Here’s a little peek behind the curtain:
A few weeks in advance of our chat, Brandon and I had an initial conversation to get to know one another better and for me to have the opportunity to better understand who he is and what makes him tick. We ended our time together by agreeing to talk again in a few weeks on a Wednesday morning at 10:00 am for our official interview. That Wednesday morning just so happened to be September 16, the morning after Hurricane Sally went through his hometown of Pensacola, Florida. Thankfully Brandon and his family were safe, but they were left without power. Most people would (understandably) ask to reschedule the interview since, oh I don’t know, you need power for internet and to charge a phone. But not Brandon Rembert. He’s a man of his word and wouldn’t dream of missing an appointment, even under less-than-desirable conditions. So what did Brandon do? He whipped out a flashlight and we still had our interview on Zoom, with his face lit up by the soft glow of the battery-powered torch.
That friends, is an example of selflessness and conviction. But that’s just part of who Brandon Rembert is.
Let me tell you the rest of the story.
Brandon Antonio Rembert was born on October 17, 1998, to Orenthal and Cheryl Rembert in Pensacola, Florida, where they still live today. He is the second oldest of seven children. The three oldest children are boys and the two youngest are boys, with two sisters sandwiched in between. You can be sure that no boys ever messed with the Rembert girls.
Rembert graduated from Booker T. Washington High School as a 17-year-old. On the baseball field, he started since his sophomore year and had a “decent senior year” (.333 BA, 12 RBI). Brandon says the he “was okay, but not a superstar”.
He was good enough to catch the attention of Faulkner University, an NAIA school in Montgomery, Alabama, where he was a member of the JV Baseball team during his freshman year. “I was actually on the JV team at Faulkner, I wasn’t even on the Varsity,” Rembert recalls.
From there, Rembert transferred to Coastal Alabama Community College – Brewton for his sophomore year. At Brewton, he hit .274, had 26 hits, 13 runs scored, 10 RBI, a double, and a triple.
This is where things get interesting.
From NAIA JV Team to Division I
At some point in fairy tale stories like this one, we all have to stop and ask the obvious question: “How on earth did this person go from Point A to Point B?” In this case, “Brandon, how did you go from playing on the JV team at an NAIA school to getting MLB Draft buzz as a Division I baseball player?”
Rembert replied, “There was a lot that went into it. I just got better skill-wise; I really progressed. I really got stronger. I just got better, honestly. I was younger coming into college. I was 17, so getting older had something to do with it, too. I started to come into my body. I got stronger and wiser; my baseball IQ increased. I always had the skill and the talent but going into my junior year it all started to come together. All the hard work started paying off. I focused on what I needed to focus on and progressed.”
In high school, Brandon had some initial conversations with Alcorn State, a Division I college in Alcorn, Mississippi. Alcorn is part of the SWAC conference and an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) institution. Rembert reignited this relationship and was ultimately able to go to play baseball at Alcorn State.
While at Alcorn, things began to click, and he led the team with a .345 batting average and .462 on-base percentage in his first year.
Due to his junior year performance, Rembert earned Preseason All-SWAC 1 Team honors heading into his senior season (2020). Unfortunately, as is the story for all of us in 2020, this is when the world stopped. After just 12 games, Alcorn State’s 2020 baseball season was halted.
Rembert recalled for me the moment of learning about the suspension of the 2020 season:
“It was kind of crazy. We were getting ready to play Alabama State for a weekend series. We were about to leave and our coach told us all to go home. I didn’t know what was going on, so I went home. Maybe a week after that they told us the whole, entire season was going to be canceled.”
Rembert continued, “After that, we were sitting at home trying to see if we were going to get our season back, if we were not going to get our season back, if we were going to pick up later in the summer. It was a lot of confusion going on with everybody, including with the coaches. The coaches didn’t know anything. The people in the conference didn’t know anything.”
How on earth was Brandon able to process through this entire experience, not knowing what was waiting next around the corner?
“Just take it day-by-day. That’s all I could really do. Just living in the moment, living in the present. Let’s focus on the present and not worry too much about the future.”
Thankfully, he didn’t have to wait too long to find out what that future would hold. On Monday, March 30, the NCAA Division I Council announced that member schools could “provide spring-sport student-athletes an additional season of competition and an extension of their period of eligibility.”
The news was great. Rembert’s baseball dreams were still alive. He had one more shot at playing college baseball.
And just how did he find out about this extra year of eligibility?
“I found out through social media. The NCAA put out something about giving the players back their eligibility. It was really exciting. I was excited to be able to get that year back because I didn’t want to end my senior season playing 12 games. I was really excited to get another opportunity to play in college again. It was a relief.”
Brandon Rembert is back in school for the 2020-21 academic year. Having finished his undergraduate work, he is now pursuing a master’s degree in Athletic Administration – Coaching and Teaching at Alcorn State. He is looking forward to his “super senior” baseball season.
For Rembert, 2021 will be the definitive last time around the block; his last opportunity to play college baseball. Given this second opportunity to make a lasting impression, he has some lofty aspirations for himself and his team.
Brandon believes this Alcorn State squad has an opportunity to make some noise within the conference. “As a team, I feel like, a SWAC Championship, definitely a conference championship.”
He carried on with his personal goals: “For myself, I have some big aspirations. I feel like I could be Player of the Year. That’s one of my big goals is to be conference player of the year and to put myself in a position to be picked up for the draft. Those are really my three big, main goals: a conference championship, SWAC Player of the Year, and to get drafted.”
Yep, that’s right, you heard correctly. This senior year will carry a different set of expectations: the Major League Baseball Draft. Rembert, ever the consummate teammate, is fully focused on the success of the team, but one of the other byproducts of his explosive junior year is the possibility of being drafted in the 2021 MLB Draft.
On June 8, Black College Nines put out a Pre-MLB Draft Report that included Rembert as a name to watch for as a potential Free Agent signee in the 2020 Draft. This means that a stellar “super senior” season could really put Rembert onto some draft boards.
In order to improve his draft stock, Rembert will need to work on a couple of different aspects of his game in preparation for the 2021 season. As a corner outfielder, he needs to add both power and speed.
“Really I need to hit for more power; especially if I want to play a corner [outfield] position. I feel like I have power, but I need more over-the-fence power. I need to put up really good power numbers. And speed. I feel like my speed has to get a little better. I’m not slow at all, but being able to steal more bases is going to help my stock go up. Really those two things: speed and power.”
To grow both of these areas of athleticism appropriately is to strike a difficult balance.
How does an athlete add enough power without bulking up so much that it affects their speed? On the flip side, how does an athlete work on speed and flexibility, while still maintaining enough bulk to hit for power?
“It’s tough because you want to be able to be strong, but still be flexible and be able to move well. You have to find that balance with training. Right now, I’m not lifting as heavy as I used to. I’m still keeping my strength but I’m not too bulky. I’m keeping my mobility. Just trying to find that in-between.”
Managing Expectations and Leading
Brandon Rembert is a young man with big goals for the upcoming baseball season. With big goals come big expectations that he will have to learn to manage. How will he go about doing so?
“It’s tough sometimes. I put a lot on myself. I feel like the work that I put in will speak for itself. In working hard, it helps me not to be nervous because I know that I’ve put in the work and. I’ve practiced it so many times. In game situations I know I can do well because I’ve put myself in the best position. Expectations can be hard sometimes, but I like it. It fuels me. I like to live up to them.
What about helping lead a team through these expectations? How will Rembert handle a leadership capacity while navigating the lofty goals for 2021?
“Really to hold everybody accountable, including myself. I try to lead by example. I always have to be doing the right things at the right time and holding myself and others accountable. I feel like that’s the best way for me. I’m not really a big vocal guy, but I am a lead-by-example-do-the-right-thing kind of guy. Especially with the younger guys, the freshmen coming in. They’re going to look up to us; to me as a fifth-year senior to show them the ropes. Doing the right thing on and off the field, in the classroom, in the weight room.”
Navigating Race Issues in America
Rembert has a unique and important insight as a black man in America walking through an era in our country where conversations surrounding race have once again hit the zeitgeist of culture (although in all reality, these conversations should be constantly ongoing as we learn to live in unity and love and respect with one another). I was grateful for Brandon’s willingness to invite me into some of his life experience and shed some wisdom on how we can continue to move forward with one voice.
“It’s definitely tough being a black man in America right now. These things have been going on for a long time,” Rembert mused. “Being a baseball player and being black is definitely different because we’re the minority in the sport. I feel like being on the team, we don’t see color in baseball. I haven’t met any racist baseball players. We were all brothers on the field. If we could do that, but as a country, we’d be good. Just treat each other all the same, just love each other. Because that’s what we do on the team. We have a lot of different races on our team, but we treat each other the same. We don’t see our color; we love each other because we’re brothers. We’re all fighting for one common goal. I feel like if we could come together like that in America, we could make some huge strides. We’ve been making some strides, but I feel like we have a long way to go. If we just love one another and treat everybody the way they should be treated and not see them as less than. I feel like we would be okay if we’d do that. We’re trying to work on that in America. I think Americans could take a lot from athletes. There are all these different races on one team and we’re all for one thing.”
I’m so grateful for Brandon’s honesty here and his willingness to be vulnerable with his answer. But how exactly do we go about accomplishing his hopes for his country? How do we continue to make the strides that he speaks of? Rembert offers a few suggestions:
“People need to put themselves in other people’s shoes. We are scared about what we don’t know. People should go and get to know these people of different races and different communities and genuinely get to know them and see what they experience. I feel like that would help a lot.” He continued, “As a team, we’re in each other’s lives every day. We really get to know everybody personally. That makes us closer. If we do that in America, maybe one or two people, just really get to know them as a person.”
Around the country, we’ve seen more and more high-level athletes seriously considering an HBCU for their college choice. A recent example is class of 2020 five-star basketball player Makur Maker, who chose Howard University. Others, while not ultimately choosing an HBCU, have included them amongst their top choices. As someone who attends an HBCU, I was curious to hear Rembert’s thoughts on the recent trend.
He responded, “More athletes are going the HBCU route. I don’t have a problem with it, I’m a fan of it. We even had a guy from Vandy, football-wise, transfer over to our school. It’s definitely something different. So we’re going to see if they can start that revolution for HBCUs.”
2020-21 Academic Year and Baseball Season
It’s been something of a turbulent beginning to the school year for Rembert. He started off the first three weeks of the semester at home, doing school online, and then was allowed to move to campus. However, they then had a team meeting where he learned that they wouldn’t be able to practice until October 15. Due to that news, he had to move back home until the team is able to begin conditioning in late September. In the midst of being back home, Hurricane Sally hit his community.
Now Rembert awaits being able to move back to campus (again!) where he looks forward to what will hopefully be a typical (second) senior year. The projections he’s hearing right now are that the baseball season should be able to proceed as normal and that they even already have a couple of games on the books.
For many college students, the events of Brandon Rembert’s college experience would be debilitating. Not receiving a scholarship to a big-time college. Having to work your way up through the ranks. Dealing with your senior season being cut short. Learning that you would receive an extra year of eligibility. Moving home and back to campus and back home and back to campus again. It’s exhausting just to type all these things.
As you talk to Rembert you begin to notice an ease about him. He has a calm and peace not shared by many people his age. He attributes all of this to his faith and says he wouldn’t be where he is today without it.
Perhaps it’s this very faith that gives Brandon the selflessness and joy so evidently on display when you talk to him.
Perhaps it’s this faith that causes him to desire to pave the way for others.
Why is it important to Brandon Rembert to carve a path for those looking to him as an example? Why does is it important to him to encourage and give hope to people?
He says, “I feel like I was always an underdog. I went from NAIA JV to Division I baseball player. So I went from the lowest to the highest level of baseball. I feel like that story could encourage people to let them know that they could do it, too. I’m not the biggest person either; I’m 5’9”, 185. Height doesn’t matter in baseball; skill and your heart matter. If you want something, you can get it. I feel like anything’s attainable and I’m a living witness of that. This could really inspire people. I went from the bottom to the top, being my size. When I was younger, I always used to look for stories like that: people my height making it big. That’s why I like Mookie Betts. He’s my size, my height. He’s not that big and he’s making $300 million. I want somebody to hear this, because they could do it, too. They could be the next Mookie Betts or they could be in the situation I’m in right now.”
What would society be like if we were all a little more concerned about bringing hope to the world around us?
What would things be like if we focused on helping others find their own way?
What if we planted a tree today that someone else could sit under the shade of years from now?
That’s what Brandon Rembert is doing.
Brandon may get drafted, he may not.
Brandon may play professional baseball, he may not.
Regardless of the outcome of his baseball career, Brandon Rembert will succeed at life.
Because he cares about people.
Because he puts the well-being of others above himself.
Because his desire is to bring people together from all different walks of life.
Because his hope is to promote unity.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to take some time to pause and reflect on how I can bring hope to those around me by being an example.
I’m going to strive to be a little more like Brandon Rembert today.
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