Jim Bruske wasn’t certain if the call was ever going to come, but if it did, he wanted it to be the greatest day of his life.
So when Dodger management approached the former Antelope Valley College standout about being a replacement player, he said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
On the brink of his lifelong desire, the right-handed pitcher spent another season in the minors.
Bruske pitched for triple-A Albuquerque and compiled a record of 7-5 with a 3.81 earned-run average. He struck out 95 batters in 111 1/3 innings.
On August 24 the Dodgers rewarded Bruske with the news he waited nine years to hear.
After being converted from an outfielder to a pitcher by the Cleveland Indians, the former first-round draft pick made it to the major leagues.
However, his major league debut in Philadelphia against the Phillies was anything but a dream. It was closer to a nightmare.
Philadelphia racked up five runs (three earned) and four hits as Bruske lasted one-third of an inning in relief.
“I was up at 5:30 a.m. and went to the park with only about two hours of sleep after flying in from Albuquerque,” Bruske said. “I guess it kind of showed.”
The Dodgers’ confidence in Bruske didn’t waver. The next day he pitched two scoreless innings of relief.
“I managed to face six hitters and allowed no runs and no hits,” Bruske said. “I definitely slept better that night.”
After the series in Philadelphia, the Dodgers returned home for a three-game series with the New York Mets.
And that’s when Bruske realized the ramifications of his decision earlier in the spring.
The Dodgers announced the promotion of third baseman Mike Busch, who had been a replacement player.
Bruske and Busch were teammates in Albuquerque, but their debuts in the big leagues were entirely different.
When the 30-year old Bruske was called up, the reception was warm and friendly. Several players rushed to greet him and offer their congratulations.
“It’s been an easy transition,” Bruske said. “The players said if I needed anything, they’d be there.”
That wasn’t the case for Busch.
Brett Butler, who was returning to Los Angeles for his first home series since being traded a year ago, openly voiced his dissatisfaction with having Busch on the club.
Bruske was getting a firsthand view on the treatment of a replacement player.
“No one knew what it was going to be like when a replacement player made the team,” Bruske said. “I wanted to be accepted by my peers when I made it.
“It was one of the smartest things I’ve done.”
Despite the players’ objections, Dodger vice-president Fred Claire said Busch will stay.
Bruske was temporarily sent to the minors Thursday to make room for Busch.
Because major-league rosters expanded to 40 players on Friday, Bruske was assigned to double-A San Antonio while Busch stayed with the big club.
“It was only a move on paper,” Bruske said. “I stayed at my hotel here and caught up on some conversation with a few friends.”
Bruske hasn’t made his home debut yet, but that hasn’t stopped him from rehearsing his entrance. When the team first arrived in Los Angeles he went to the mound and stared in awe at an empty Dodger Stadium.
“I’ve always watched games here from a fan’s standpoint,” Bruske said.
“The first time I get out there I’m going to pause, look around and enjoy the moment.”