Warren Brusstar had no idea how hard he was throwing back in 1971 as a starting pitcher for the Napa Valley College baseball team.
He threw two pitches, a fastball and curveball. And his curveball, he said, was terrible.
“So it was probably 90 percent fastballs. I never had a good curveball,” he said.
The San Francisco Giants took notice of Brusstar, who threw a no-hitter against Lassen-Susanville that season. The Giants drafted the right-hander in the 27th round in 1970, following his senior year at Napa High School. They selected him again, taking Brusstar in the sixth round of the secondary phase of the January 1971 draft.
Brusstar didn’t sign, opting instead to ask some of the scouts who were following him at the time who they would recommend as a pitching coach that he could work with. They all said Bob Bennett, head coach of the Fresno State Bulldogs.
“I knew I had something, but what am I going to do with it? I didn’t have any clue what I was doing,” he recalled. “I had to do something.”
Brusstar got on the phone and called Bennett. The Fresno State coach invited him to visit the school and to throw for him.
“Afterward he said, ‘OK, I’ll give you a scholarship,’” said Brusstar. “I recruited myself.”
It was Bennett who brought out the best in Brusstar. He pitched two years for Fresno State, was a starter for the Bulldogs, and signed with the Philadelphia Phillies after being selected in the fourth round of the secondary phase during the 1974 draft in January.
Brusstar, a Napa resident, won a World Series title as a reliever with the Phillies. He spent nine years in the major leagues.
He will be honored Saturday night as one of the inductees for the Napa Valley College Athletic Hall of Fame at a dinner and awards program at Embassy Suites Hotel, starting at 6 p.m. He joins a class that includes the late Glenn (Pop) DuBose, the late Bob Steen, Frank Humpert, Jim Hard, Scott Buss and Todd Pridy.
The primary goals of the NVC Athletic Hall of Fame are to recognize individuals for outstanding athletic contribution and/or participation at Napa Valley College and to illuminate the athletic tradition at NVC.
“It’s a great honor,” said Brusstar, who is also in the Napa High Athletic Hall of Fame. “For me, looking back, it’s a great honor, especially to go in with the first class.”
Brusstar said he enjoyed his one year at NVC, a team that was coached by Larry Bailey and played in the Golden Valley Conference with Sierra-Rocklin, Lassen, Yuba-Marysville, Butte-Oroville, Shasta-Redding, Redwoods-Eureka and Siskiyous-Weed.
Several of Brusstar’s former teammates at Napa High went on to join him on the NVC team.
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“I reached double figures in strikeouts almost every outing,” he said. “I looked back and saw some (newspaper) clippings where I had 13, 14, 15 strikeouts. It was a lot of fun, because those were guys that I had played with in high school.”
His two years at Fresno State were key in his development as a pitcher. He learned about pitching from Bennett, who had a storied 34-year career at Fresno State, going 1,302-759-4 all-time and closing out his career with 32 winning campaigns, including 26 consecutive.
The Bulldogs enjoyed constant success, winning or sharing 17 league or division titles, advancing to the NCAA Regionals 21 times and making trips to the College World Series in 1988 and ’91. His teams were consistently ranked in the Top 25.
Brusstar was drafted in the 35th round by the New York Mets in 1973, but did not sign.
He played in the Phillies’ minor league system with Spartanburg, S.C., Rocky Mount, N.C., Reading, Pa., and Oklahoma City. He was called up to the Phillies in 1977 and also pitched in the majors for the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox.
He and fellow NHS Hall of Famer Bill Buckner were teammates on the Cubs for a year and a half before Buckner was traded to the Boston Red Sox.
Brusstar, 59, was primarily a middle relief pitcher during his major league career. He appeared in 340 games and compiled a career record of 28-16 with 14 saves, while posting a 3.51 earned-run average.
He was a pitching coach in the Phillies’ organization for six years (1999-2004). He was NVC’s pitching coach for six years (1989-1994) and also coached for San Bernardino in the California League for one year.
He has been NVC’s pitching coach since 2007. It’s a level of baseball that he is familiar with, going back to his first year of college baseball here.
“It’s fun, because I know what I went through,” he said. “It’s giving back to these kids that come out here. It’s a learning curve. It’s a little different structure than they’re used to. They’re expected to do a little bit more on their own.”
A social hour with a no-host bar will begin at 6 p.m. The dinner and the ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. The cost of the dinner is $50 per person.
Checks can be made payable to Napa Valley College Foundation and sent to NVC Foundation, 2277 Napa-Vallejo Highway, Napa, CA 94558.
To make a reservation, call or e-mail Kathy Baird or Carolyn Sanchez in the Foundation office at 256-7168.