By: Mike Rankin, Frontier League
O'FALLON, Mo. -- In his 16th season in the Frontier League, Steve Brook has been around for a plethora of changes. Throughout his four-year playing career beginning in 2004, Brook saw the League go from 12 teams down to 10. Then, in his final season in 2007, the League increased back to 12 and incorporated three divisions for the first time in its history.
The former River City Rascals right-handed pitcher finished his playing career with a 33-17 record and notched a 4.14 ERA in 76 total appearances (64 were starts). In 448 innings, Brook struck out 332 and compiled an impressive 1.252 career WHIP. He was an All-Star in 2005 and 2006.
After spending two seasons as a River City assistant, Brook was awarded the managerial position in 2010. In his first season as skipper, the Rascals finished with the second-best record among the then 12-team league at 57-38 and won a Frontier League Championship.
Now in his 10th season as manager of the Rascals, Brook's overall record on the date of his 500th victory stood at 500-381. The 38-year-old has finished all but one season with an above .500 record and has made it to the Frontier League postseasons six times with five Championship appearances.
Despite all the variables throughout Brook's time in the Frontier League, one thing has remained consistent, which is his ability to find success.
"I'm so thankful for the opportunity to be here," Brook said of the Frontier League. "This isn't the big leagues, but it's my big leagues. I treat it that way every day and I just try to go out and serve my staff and my players and do what I can for them. I've been really fortunate to have a good number of people around me these last 10 years and had some quality teams. To be able to be in it that long and get that many wins is a huge blessing and a huge honor."
Over its 27-year history, the Frontier League continues to strive despite its share of changes. Ultimately, the driving product that propels the longest running independent baseball league forward is the product on the field.
"As a player, not much has changed," Brook said. "The experience is still the same; you still have to come out and grind every day. I think the league has certainly changed, but really the roots of it are still the same. It's a league for guys who either miss the draft or get released out of [an affiliate], but for the most part it's guys in their mid-20's who are just trying to advance in baseball."
The on-field product remains the driving force of the Frontier League. Acquiring players in a league that experiences turnover frequently, Brook maintains a philosophy that translates to the clubhouse and ultimately results in success. The process in finding those players is not easy.
"It's extremely complicated, but the best thing I can say is that you surround yourself with people who do things the right way and play the game the right way," Brook said. "You just have to put in the work and call the players you feel will be successful, but also trust your gut whenever you get the players that you don't feel are the right fits off the field and may not be the right fit on the field as well. When you do that in the long run you will be successful at the end of the year. We've had a lot of teams that have been to the playoffs and come up a game or two short, but winning a playoff series is an extremely difficult thing to do in such a competitive league."
The Frontier League's backbone is its credibility. Bill Lee took on the role as League Commissioner in 1994 and remains as the only individual to hold the position.
Last season, the Frontier League celebrated Southern Illinois Minors manager Mike Pinto's record breaking 626th win. This year will mark the 6th class of the Frontier League Hall of Fame. Thanks in large part to longtime committed representatives, the Frontier League continues to represent a high-class baseball product.
"There's a lot of guys in this league who work hard," Brook said. "It's not like it was 10, five years ago even where there was a lot of managerial or front office turnover. Now you see stable guys. You see guys like Andy McCauley, Phil Warren, Dennis Pelfrey and Mike Pinto – they know what they're doing. They've been in the League for a really long time and they know what they're doing."
Brook's River City Rascals are again among the top of the League in 2019 in terms of the product on the field. Winning is the goal, but ultimately isn't everything. The Frontier League is built to push talent to the next level, and Brook is one of the best in talent evaluation.
Though Brook is having success on the field, he embodies what the Frontier League ultimately represents. The League offers opportunity to those who are willing to make the most out of it without the pressures that inherently come within other organizations.
"What I think is really cool about this league is that you find so many players who do come here and it is the most fun they've ever had playing baseball," Brook said. "There's not the selfishness you get in an affiliated mindset, it's not the collegiate kind of 'rah-rah' stuff either. I think that's what makes it very genuine and extremely a privilege to be a part of."
For more information related to the River City Rascals, head to their website at rivercityrascals.com.