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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Hunting, fishing and baseball

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – There are plenty of places to look for 17-year-old Cole Brannen in and around his south-central Georgia hometown of Elko, but here are three recommended venues at which to start the search: a baseball field, a deer hunting stand or a fishing boat.

Brannen is a speedy 6-foot, 180-pound junior outfielder who attends The Westfield School in Perry, Ga., and who spent these last few days of 2015 in attendance at the Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event.

If Brannen wouldn’t have been at the JetBlue Park Player Development Complex Monday through Wednesday, it’s likely he would have been helping out at his family’s business, Brannen Outfitters, a hunting and fishing outfitter owned and operated by his parents, Jarrod and Leanne Brannen.

“If I’m not playing baseball I’m usually out hunting or fishing,” Cole Brannen said this week during a short break in the action at JetBlue. “It’s what our family does.”

These past few days were all about baseball for Brannen as he tried to show PG scouts and evaluators they should bump him up from the No. 55 spot he currently holds in the class of 2017 national prospect rankings.

Always known for his speed, Brannen ran a 6.66-second 60-yard dash (second-best at the event but well off his personal PG best of 6.45-seconds) and a 1.53-second 10-yard split (fourth at the event). He also threw 87 mph from the outfield, good for a top-20 effort at the event.

Those showings taken in hand with solid play in the Main Event’s games left Brannen feeling pretty good about his stay here, especially since he was really enjoying himself.

“You should always have fun or you’re not playing the game the right way,” he said. “But at the same time you’ve got to take it seriously with everything you do. I grade myself really hard when it comes to the(workouts). And you see a lot of the same guys that you always see (during the summer) so it’s good to see those guys again.”

This was the 18th PG event Brannen attended and his seventh showcase. He was named to the prestigious Top Prospect List at four of those previous six showcases – including the 2015 PG Junior National – and was selected to the Top Prospect Team at each of the last two National Underclass-Main Events.

“You have to perform at the top level and Perfect Game does a great job of putting on (its showcases),” Jarrod Brannen said. “You want to put yourself up against the best and see how you rank and get better every time; that’s what it’s all about. Baseball is a game of errors and you want to minimize your errors and keep getting better and better and better.”

“I love just being able to come out and watch him grow through the sport,” Cole’s mom, Leanne, added. “I’ve got four other boys and Cole’s the oldest of the five, so he’s got a lot of eyes watching him and they all look up to him; they all want to be like Cole.”

Cole Brannen was named to the all-tournament team at the 2014 15u PG BCS Finals and the 2015 16u PG BCS Finals while playing for Chain Baseball, which is based in Warner Robins, Ga. The all-tournament recognition at the 16u event this summer was especially gratifying because it came after Chain National won the 16u PG BCS Finals national championship, earning Brannen and his teammates a championship ring.

“That was an unbelievable tournament,” he said. “Everything just went right and I’ll never forget it. The 15u (Chain National team) won it the week before we did so we just had to go in there and clean it up.”

A few years back, the Brannen’s had their own hunting and fishing show on television that ran for six years in conjunction with their outfitting business and the show involved the entire family. Cole and his younger siblings grew up on that show and whenever he wasn’t playing baseball he was out hunting and fishing. He is even a member of his high school’s shotgun shooting team.

Everyone in the Brannen family lives for the great outdoors and the bounty and beauty it offers. The kids all work in the store helping to make sure their customers are outfitted perfectly for whatever outdoor endeavor they choose to pursue.

“Growing up in the South is a little different with southern gentlemen and good manners and learning about what God has given us with the outdoors and baseball and all of that,” Jarrod said. “(Cole has) loved baseball since he was old enough to walk.”

Like just about every other sports-minded kid in America, Cole Brannen grew up playing all the traditional boys’ sports but eventually gravitated toward baseball, although he continues to run track in addition to his duties with The Westfield School’s shotgun team. “I figured the best sport for me to play at the next level would be baseball,” he said. “I just love the game; I always have.”

Brannen has already reached the “next level” in one respect, with his commitment to attend Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga., and play for head coach Rodney Hennon. The 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft is likely to factor into that commitment, of course.

“I’ve been going to their camps for several years and Coach Rodney is a really good coach. I think the world of him; he’s a really great guy,” Cole said. “It just felt like a really good fit.”

Trying to find a common thread between baseball, hunting and fishing might seem like a stretch at first but it wasn’t at all difficult for Jarrod Brannen to find a connection. And when articulated, the correlation makes total sense.

“It’s all about achieving goals,” he said. “It can be taking a big deer and catching a big fish or making the (MLB) draft or whatever your goal is in baseball; everything has a goal to it. There are so many goals you can set in baseball just like with hunting and fishing, and you need to get your mind set on that goal.

“You’ve got to be ready to play the game and I think it’s the same way with preparation for hunting or fishing,” he continued. “It takes a lot of prep work until that day comes when its game-time, and if you prep for it, you’ll be fine.”

This year’s PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event set an all-time PG showcase record with 590 participants. Every one of those prospects prepared for the event in their own way and it’s safe to say no one was more prepared than Cole Brannen.

“I’m just looking to have a positive experience and set some new goals,” he said. “This is a really good atmosphere with a lot of good, competitive players.”

Jarrod and Leanne Brannen know the PG showcase drill well and with Cole still having another year on the circuit and four other sons on their way up, they can expect to become even more intimately familiar with the process.

“I think the advice that I would give parents is, with Cole we started going to showcases when he was in seventh grade, and it just gives them that confidence they can’t get anywhere else,” Leanne said. “The next event is easier and easier and easier and you just see him grow and progress.”

And who knows? This outdoor-loving family might even be able to get a line wet or bag a deer at one of their stops along the way.

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