The sharp crack of the bat resonates throughout a calm Palm Springs Stadium on a chilly Tuesday morning. A single player takes cuts off a tee in the batting cage. His father joins him to throw practice pitches to him. He is the only one of the 150 California Winter League players that has arrived at the field. It’s 7 a.m.
Actually 7 a.m. is an unusually late start for Brennan Malham of the Palm Desert Coyotes.
Malham, who draws eerie comparisons to Matt Holiday, wakes up as early as 5 a.m. to go to the gym.
“I like the feeling of doing work when I know no one else is awake,” said Malham, whose biceps bulge out of his black Under Armour shirt as he beams from ear-to-ear. His smile is infectious especially after earning his first professional contract with the Laredo Lemurs of the American Association.
“I was ecstatic,” said Malham. “I was told numerous times that I wasn’t good enough, yet I continued to work. I was training by myself every day. Sometimes you don’t know if it’s going to pay off, but you have to believe.”
Malham’s strenuous workout regimen is a program that others may want to emulate. He majored in exercise science at the University of Southern Indiana and his blue-collar work ethic doesn’t just apply to the baseball field – it was also evident in the classroom.
He was after all, the salutatorian at Auburn High School in Illinois and received first team Academic All-American honors as a sophomore at Lincoln Land Community College.
“He’s an animal,” said Palm Desert Coyote teammate Bobby Hillier. “He’s really nuts. You want to surround yourself with people who love the game like Brennan. People like him make you better and keep you upbeat.”
It didn’t always seem like his dream would become a reality.
Malham suffered reconstructive ACL surgery as a senior in high school, which abruptly ended any Division One scholarship offers. All the D-1 coaches who were once interested, now became reluctant to sign the former three-year captain of Auburn High School.
Malham responded by doing the only thing he knows how to do – work, and work harder than anyone else on the field. He had to persevere to make it back on the field. His work ethic is unparalleled.
His overambitious nature saw him back on his feet ready to work out just three months after surgery. The chiseled 5-foot-11, 190-pound Malham sprung back at it full throttle, taking a two-mile jog that he would soon regret.
The vigorous exercise regime so soon after surgery taxed his body more than it was capable of bearing. It led to a series of illnesses. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and then bronchitis. His weakened state would then lead to a bout of mononucleosis.
Things got worse. Malham was diagnosed with thrush, an infection of the mucus membrane lining the mouth and tongue.
Translation: Malham couldn’t swallow or even eat food for an entire month. He went on a fluid diet to maintain his strength. Instead of attending a D-1 school, he took the field at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois.
Malham made the most of his opportunity. He earned second-team All-American honors as a sophomore with a ridiculous .453 batting average to go along with 80 RBI, the second most in the nation. He led his team in almost every offensive category, while still excelling in the classroom as he had done in high school, earning Academic All-American honors.
His hard work and effort finally paid off. He signed with D-1 Southeast Missouri State.
Malham was set to make his presence felt. But misfortune would once again strike. He broke his leg in his eighth game of the season and was forced to redshirt and rehab yet again.
His redshirt junior season had flashes of brilliance. He smashed a home run and belted five RBI in just 15 at-bats, but was overlooked by his coach because of the injury that had sidelined him the previous season.
He decided to transfer again, this time to the University of Southern Indiana. Malham rapidly made a home for himself playing anywhere he was asked to play, starting at five different positions and boasting a .293 batting average to go along with 29 RBI. The model of consistency, he thumped 46 hits in 46 games.
Malham graduated in the spring of 2012 and pursued his dream. He packed his bags and headed out to Palm Springs in January for the opportunity of a lifetime. In a loaded talent pool including the likes of Koby Clemens and Dustin Smith, it was Malham who left a lasting impression on both Pete Incaviglia and Billy Bryk, the manager and pitching coaches of the Palm Desert Coyotes.
The two hold the same positions on the American Association Laredo Lemurs and offered Malham a contract.
“He’s very hard working,” said Bryk. “He’s a hard-nosed player that gives you options because he can play anywhere. He almost does too much. He’s a super-utility player, who has played every single position this year except for catcher. He has unbelievably quick hands. You can’t teach that.”