From Wheeler to Milwuakee
Mississippi native Brandon Woodruff reflects on his notable life in Major League Baseball.
Written by Eugene Stockstill | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Born in Tupelo, Milwaukee Brewers’ starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff has had some big-time life experiences that most can only imagine. A standout pitcher at Wheeler High School, Woodruff would later be a part of the 2013 Mississippi State team that fell just shy of winning that year’s College World Series, losing to UCLA. Now a regular part of the Milwaukee pitching rotation, Woodruff can lay claim to at least one fascinating piece of history: He is one of the few pitchers to hit a home run in the postseason. He did it against the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw in the 2018 National League Championship Series. He also played in the 2019 MLB All-Star Game. Woodruff, his wife and daughter rent a house in Milwaukee during the season, but except for spring training in Arizona, Woodruff calls Saltillo home the rest of the time. We caught up with him recently to ask him about baseball, life in Wisconsin and a few other things.
Q: What’s your earliest baseball memory?
A: I can remember going and playing park ball in Booneville. I just remember the excitement of getting out of the truck with your little baseball bag and being able to go out to the game. I think that’s probably one of my earliest baseball memories. But for me, (the strongest memory) is being in the backyard with my brother and my dad and taking ground balls. I was doing that when I was 6, 7 years old.
Q: When did you know playing ball was for you?
A: It was real gradual. I always thought in high school that I would go to Northeast and play junior college ball. As I got bigger and stronger, I played the showcase tournament in Oklahoma and had a good tournament. There were some scouts there. I was already being recruited by State, Ole Miss, Southern Mississippi. That’s how it started for me. I got drafted out of high school in the fifth round, but turned it down and went to college. Mississippi State was my dream school, and I really wanted to go there. I think when I got to double A, that’s when I realized I had a shot.
Q: What did that realization do to you emotionally?
A: Once I got in pro ball, I was sent to Helena, Montana, on a yellow school bus to go to practice. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m back in high school again.’ That’s probably when I realized it was going to take a lot of dedication and hard work to get where I wanted. That was probably the first year (2014) I realized that.
Q: Who is your biggest hero in sports?
A: Probably my dad and my brother. That’s who I learned the game from. My brother wound up being in a four-wheeler accident and passed away in 2016. He was the one who taught me the game, and that’s when I fell in love with it, watching him play in college and wanting to follow in his footsteps. They would probably be my biggest heroes.
Q: Describe learning the game in Wheeler? Has baseball been second-nature to you?
A: To be honest, basketball was my favorite sport growing up. At one point (Wheeler High School) had the most championships in the state. I grew up playing basketball, and baseball was just another sport I grew up playing. I’ve had to put in so much work to perfect my craft and to be the best at what I do. It takes a lot of sacrifice and commitment to make it at the major league level.
Q: What about the MSU aura?
A: I grew up a State fan. My whole family is Mississippi State people. (MSU) was my dream school. I had no interest in going anywhere else. You were treated like a rock star. Mississippi State is a baseball school. The biggest thing with Mississippi State is the fans that come out and support you. You feel like you’re in a big-league stadium.
Q: You went to Omaha for the 2013 CWS. Did the change to a new stadium make a difference in that year’s outcome?
A: No. I’d only thrown 10 innings that year. I was in an arm brace, but I was there and experienced the whole thing. In the championship series, that place held 20,000 to 30,000. It was basically a home game for us. You’re in the biggest spotlight. We just played two bad games and ran into a team that played better than we did.
Q: What are your feelings about the 2021 CWS that MSU won?
A: I can tell you, it was such a big deal that Mississippi State was able to win a national championship. For it to be the baseball team to do it was very fitting, and it felt like it was just meant to be. I remember watching the whole thing. We were playing a day game. I remember getting into Pittsburgh, going to my hotel room and watching the last three or four innings. I didn’t full-on cry, but I definitely teared up at the last out. You can’t even comprehend it.
Q: What’s your personal training regimen?
A: It changes every season. I take off a full month after every season. Then I start full workouts. I start four days a week. Then I move into just about every day. It’s a lot of different exercises. I’m throwing every day and working out four to five times a week. I’m just trying to get my body ready for spring training. It’s a lot of get up, throw, do what I’ve got to do for the day. A lot of arm care exercises, too.
Q: What’s it like working and raising a family in Milwaukee?
A: We love it. That’s the only place we’ve ever known, and we’ve been in the organization for 10 years. You can get 10, 15 minutes out of downtown and feel like you’re not in a big city. Some good fishing, some of the best golfing you can play. We like to take our little girl out and spend the day outside. The fans remind me a lot of being in Mississippi State ... very passionate about their players.
Q: You have a condition known as Raynaud’s syndrome. How is it managing that at the professional level?
A: When I would grip the baseball, the blood wouldn’t get back to the tips of my fingers, and they would go numb. I couldn’t feel the seams of the baseball. Once I figured out what was happening, I could manage it. I’ve been throwing this winter, and I haven’t had any trouble. Maybe it’s something that just gets bad when it’s really cold. I think I’ve got a good hold on it now.
Q: Any thoughts about a salary cap in MLB?
A: Our market is a free market, right? We have to play so many years to be a free agent. There’s no cap to what we can get. The better you play and the better you do, the more money you get. I’m a fan of the free market.
Q: How accurate is the movie “Bull Durham?”
A: (Laughing) This is a bad, bad confession. I’ve only watched parts of ‘Bull Durham,’ I haven’t seen the whole thing. But yes, the lifestyle of the minor leagues is not glamorous, by any means.