St. Anne-Pacelli School
by Beth Welch
photography by Jim Dillard
Hard Work And Dependability Make Middle School Athlete Valuable To Team
Every baseball team has a player or two who provide excitement or over-the-top plays to keep things interesting. But most coaches will admit that the backbone of any good team is the group of players who provide steady leadership and make consistent, routine plays. Kyle Brena, second baseman for the St. Anne-Pacelli Middle School baseball team, is one of those guys.
Brena, 14, has been playing baseball since he started Tee-ball as a youngster. His father, Carlo Brena, played baseball in high school and saw to it that Kyle and his older sister Kayla played Little League baseball. Carlo Brena was acting as a community coach in some other sports at St. Anne-Pacelli when the school’s athletic director approached him three years ago about beginning a middle school baseball program.
“I was helping with girls softball and Chris Garner came to me about starting middle school baseball. Chris’s thinking was that a middle school program would act as a feeder program for varsity baseball. There had been some difficulty keeping a junior varsity program going successfully so his idea was a middle school program,” recalls Brena.
Public schools in Muscogee County do not have middle school baseball programs but several outlying county systems do as well as some area private schools. Brena accepted Garner’s challenge to begin a program using athletes from the sixth, seventh and eighth grades at the school.
Without knowing who would show up, Brena got the word out about starting a new team and set a tryout date. Approximately 20 baseball players attended the first organizational meeting. Brena’s son Kyle was among those who expressed an interest in playing on the Vikings middle school team.
Kyle Brena has spent most of his time on the field as a second baseman with a little outfielder experience occasionally and also brief stints as shortstop. He prefers the second base position.
“Infielders are really more into the game on every play,” says Kyle Brena. “It’s not boring. You have to pay attention.”
Having your father as your coach is sort of a love-hate situation for many athletes. Kyle Brena and his father have a close relationship which has been strengthened over the years by the amount of time the two have spent together because of sports. He values his father’s opinion and respects his father’s knowledge of the game. Still, Kyle Brena is not immune to the comments directed toward his role as the coach’s son and how that relates to his position on the team.
“Yeah, people say things sometimes about how I get to play or about my dad but I don’t really try to deny it. I don’t usually say anything. I just let my playing speak for itself,” he says.
Carlo Brena is pretty quick to jump in when the topic turns to playing favorites with players. “I have never been one to give my kids a break or let them play just because they were mine,” he says. “I am actually the opposite. Last thing I want is someone to think that I show favoritism to my own kids. You can ask Kyle. I am a lot tougher on him, I think, than others. I hit him some pretty wicked ground balls and he just takes the brunt of it. If he plays, he has to earn it like everyone else.”
And earn it, he has. Kyle Brena batted ninth in the lineup last season and posted a .333 batting average. At 5’1” and 103 pounds, he is one of the smaller players on the team but he makes up for his size with his range of motion as a second baseman and his ability to keep his head in the game.
“Kyle is pretty unemotional. He doesn’t let things get to him and he stays level-headed both in the field and at the plate,” says his coach.
Kyle Brena committed only three errors in the field during the 2011 season and finished the year with a .912 fielding percentage. He sees his strengths as his fielding ability. This season, he would like to improve his batting because he knows this time next year, hopefully he will be playing on the varsity team at Pacelli. “I’ve already made the decision to stay at Pacelli for high school. I want to play on the baseball team here and this is where most of my friends are, too,” he says.
The baseball field isn’t the only place Kyle Brena plans on being during his high school years. He is a three-sport athlete at St. Anne-Pacelli, where he also participates in football and basketball.
For football, Kyle Brena rarely spends much time on the bench. He played cornerback and wide receiver and was a member of all the special teams with the exception of field goal. He had played recreational league football prior to middle school but mainly chose to play football and basketball these last three years as a means to stay in shape for baseball.
“The conditioning of football and basketball helps with all sports,” he says.
His talents and abilities don’t necessarily make him a great basketball player, but Kyle Brena enjoyed his experiences as a member of the Vikings middle school team. Because of his size, he is aware that he probably will leave basketball behind once he reaches high school.
“I like it because it gives me something to do but sometimes in high school you need to focus on specific sports. I probably will play football and baseball but I haven’t decided about any other sports yet,” he says.
Middle school baseball has a 12-game regular season. Last year the Vikings went 11-1 in regular season play and 12-3 overall. Each year the program has become more successful. Kyle Brena hopes the trend continues when the team begins play in earnest in a few weeks.
“I think we’ll compete. We lost lots of eighth-graders but there are several of us who played last year who will be back again this season,” he says.
Carlo Brena is looking for big things from his team in the 2012 season and knows he has players he can depend upon. Even though one of those shares his last name, the coach is objective in his opinion of the second baseman.
“Kyle is not the, ‘Oh my gosh,’ play deliverer. He works hard. He’s a quiet leader and just a scrappy little guy who does what he needs to do to get the job done. I can see him playing at the next level because he is smart out there. He doesn’t make mistakes,” says Carlo Brena.
For Kyle Brena, the last season of middle school baseball before he transitions to high school will be a time to have fun but also to continue to bring stability to the game. “When I am out there, all I am thinking about is what I have to do for the next play,” he says.