By Larry Hall
Digging his cleats into the reddish-brown dirt of the batter’s box, with his stare trained on the pitcher who is perched on top of the mound, Brandon Westbrook was on a journey that many youngsters across the country dream of traveling on one day.
Although Westbrook never got to play on a Major League Baseball field, he spent several years playing semi-pro baseball. At the same time, he also served as a diesel mechanic in the U.S. Army. Now, after exploring a new career path, he has graduated from the Valencia College Accelerated Skills Training’s Welding Technology program and soon will be starting a new position with Mitsubishi Power, a company developing innovative power technology by making smarter power plants and enhancing existing power infrastructure.
Westbrook’s life has been full of twists and turns, and it started when the Memphis, Tennessee native enrolled in college at Southeast Missouri State and joined the Missouri National Guard in 2010. Before too long, he transferred to Ole Miss and joined the Army ROTC before exiting the school to start his own business.
While his passion for baseball fueled his life’s pursuits, it was more challenging for him than most ballplayers. “My experience in that world was a little different because I was in the military and I could only play during which my leave was granted. I played in collegiate summer leagues to get my name out there,” Westbrook said.
His name got out there and while he never reached the top ranks, he gained plenty of opportunity to do what he loves: swing the bat.
In 2015, “I drove for eight hours from Memphis to Danville, Virginia where there was a Double-A tryout for the Atlanta Braves,” said Westbrook. A hamstring injury hampered his chances of making the roster, though, and he moved around from there before moving to South Florida to play for the Semi-Pro Collier County Copperheads. That opportunity led to another tryout for a major league team, this time with the San Diego Padres organization in Vero Beach.
“Playing ball was a good break from the military. I was playing for the love of the game. It was my life — it was my dream,” says Westbrook. “I was always trying to keep my mind focused because I didn’t get all the time in the world to practice. I had to make the best of every opportunity I had because it could’ve been my only opportunity.”
In the Army, Westbrook worked on Humvees, fuel trucks and more. He joined the military because he wanted to develop discipline and a mental fortitude to stay on track and complete a mission. And the patience he learned paid off later in life.
Westbrook was living in Colorado from 2017 to 2020 when Covid-19 hit, dealing him a financial setback, because he owned his own business, a cleaning service. “I had my own company and the companies I was cleaning for shut down because of the pandemic, so that stopped that money flow,” Westbrook said. “I was also working at a school, but the school went virtual so that stopped that money flow.”
At a dire time, Westbrook researched recession-proof industries. Thinking there had to be a career out there that wouldn’t be as impacted by the world’s economic ups and downs, he stumbled onto welding, and it piqued his interest. “There were so many aspects of welding I didn’t know, and I went into the wormhole.”
He once again packed up and moved to Florida, this time with a young son. “I was supposed to start the welding class in January 2021, but I couldn’t do it because my son was on a waitlist for daycare. Then my son got Covid-19 and so dId I. It was one thing after another,” said Westbrook.
Westbrook finally enrolled in Valencia’s program with the help of several grants. Today, he is grateful for how far he has come, having completed the Welding Technology program when he didn’t know how to use a grinder before beginning the 28-week course.
He has never been one to shy away from a challenge, but now he has even more reason to forge a successful path.
“I am a father of a two-year-old son, so it inspires me to jump into something that he’ll grow up watching me do,” Westbrook said. He emphasized that his son doesn’t have to grow up to be a welder, but he wants him to know that it is a viable career and an opportunity to create a solid foundation.
For now, Westbrook is just trying to teach his son to love life and the game of baseball the way he does. “We practice every weekend,” Westbrook said. “We already got a tee. He’s not doing it right but at least he is doing it,” Westbrook added with a smile and a chuckle.