Henry Brandmark might not have plans to play Division I baseball when he heads to James Madison University as a freshman this fall, but that didn't stop him from continuing the sport he has played since he was 5 years old.
Having always loved the calm atmosphere and camaraderie of baseball, the 2012 Madison High graduate signed up for American Legion Baseball for the first time this summer.
He found a comfort in his abilities through the relaxed coaching style of Vienna Post 180's Frank Werman, which laid the foundation for Brandmark's standout performance in a season that ended with a District 17 title and a berth into the state tournament.
Werman awarded Brandmark with the Chris Burr MVP trophy Sunday at Post 180 baseball's end-of-the-year cookout.
"I kinda thought Tim [Davis] was going to win it. He didn't lose a game, so I thought he would've deserved it," Brandmark said of Post 180's ace who won eight games, including a no-hitter. "We both had good seasons. Everyone performed well this season, actually."
Uncomfortable with the individual attention, Brandmark credited his MVP season to a solid lineup and pitching staff that helped give him confidence while batting, playing first base or pitching in relief.
"He's a phenomenal athlete," Werman said. "Some of those picks at first base were unbelievable. Then he'd come in and be lights out on the mound. It was just an incredible season for him."
Brandmark broke two Post 180 baseball records as a relief pitcher with five saves and a 0.74 ERA, throwing 50 strikeouts in 36.1 innings. He also joined the Post 180 pitching staff in posting a 2.17 ERA, besting the 29-year-old ERA record of 2.29, and the Post 180 defense in averaging 3.3 runs allowed, breaking a 23-year-old record of 3.4.
"Tim and Mark [Gunst] and Daniel [Bayer] definitely set the tone. They got deep into the game, and all I had to do a lot of the times was pitch two innings at the end," Brandmark said. "We kind of competed with each other throughout the year. About halfway through the season we saw we had a chance to break the ERA record, so whenever any of us gave up runs we were on each other to try to break it."
He led his team with a .374 batting average, .548 slugging percentage and 43 hits — and a team-best 14 doubles. He came in second behind one of last year's MVPs, Chris Hanson, with 21 RBI.
Brandmark has no plans to attempt to walk on with the Division I Dukes. His college hunt focused on academics and atmosphere, not athletics.
"I really liked JMU, and I wanted to choose a school for academics," Brandmark said. "JMU is Division I, and I probably wouldn't have been able to play there."
Werman believes Brandmark has the natural talent to perform well with a college program, but also knows baseball is a game of will as much as it is a game of talent.
"You have to really want it. Henry says he doesn't and that's OK, too," Werman said. "He's a really laid back guy, so maybe it's just not for him. He certainly could've played at that level if he wanted it, though."
But Brandmark's life in baseball will continue, as he plans to play club baseball at JMU, look for coaching opportunities in the future and, of course, return to the American Legion squad next summer.
"I had a lot of fun with these guys, so I definitely want to come back," Brandmark said. "Baseball will still be a part of my life."