KINGSTON, R.I. - Character, spirit, work ethic, commitment, leadership. Six key words used to define the Joseph P. Ciancola, III Memorial Scholarship award. Six traits embodied by redshirt senior reliever Tyler Brosius.
Now in his fifth season with the Rhode Island baseball program, Brosius, a former non-scholarship outfielder, will enter his final season with the Rams as a scholarship pitcher - perhaps one of the best in the Atlantic 10. His journey to this point however, has been anything but conventional.
A native of Denville, N.J., Brosius arrived on campus in the fall of 2015, as a centerfielder. A year behind All-Conference and All-Region centerfielder Jordan Powell - who finished his career ranked second all time in games played (209) and fourth in hits (257) - Brosius did not see the field as a freshman. He was honest with himself about how the next few years would likely play out.
"I was playing behind a really talented veteran guy, and I knew I wasn't going to take his spot," Brosius said. "If I was going to contribute to this team, it was going to have to be in a different role than what I had originally thought. So that's when I talked to the coaches about giving me a chance on the mound."
Despite the fact that Brosius had made just one pitching appearance in high school, and despite some initial skepticism about putting him on the mound, head coach Raphael Cerrato agreed to give it a try.
"Tyler is a great kid who we really enjoyed having around, and I respected his willingness to take on a new role that he maybe wasn't that familiar or comfortable with," Cerrato said. "The fact that he came to us with this idea really showed a lot of maturity on his part, as well as a strong desire to be a part of the team, so I said 'okay, let's do this.'"
Brosius made four appearances during that 2017 season as a redshirt freshman, giving up six runs on six hits over 3.1 innings of work. Statistically speaking, the following season wasn't any better as he finished with a 12.34 ERA in 10 appearances. He lacked command, issuing 10 walks and allowing 18 hits through 11.2 innings of relief.
Unwilling to believe that was the best he could do, Brosius worked tirelessly at his craft coming in to the 2019 season. And it was there that he saw the effort pay off, turning in a team-best 2.27 ERA with a 6-2 record and six saves. Through 39.2 innings spanning 25 appearances, he recorded 32 strikeouts with only six walks. Opponents hit just .195 off him.
Call it a breakout season, call it a reward for hard work and dedication. The one thing Cerrato won't call it is a surprise.
"He was filthy during the fall last year, almost unhittable," Cerrato said. "This is a kid that, right from the beginning, was coachable and willing to put in the work. He struggled through his first two years pitching, but kept at it, and kept making adjustments. Once he figured it out, then the confidence came. From that point on, he really was our go-to arm out of the bullpen."
When the offseason rolled around and Cerrato had to determine who would receive the Ciancola scholarship for the 2020 season, he took a moment to reflect on the meaning of the award.
Created to honor the memory of former pitcher Joey Ciancola, who passed away in 2011 during his redshirt freshman season with the Rams, the scholarship is awarded to the Rhody baseball player who best embodies Joey's character and spirit. The recipient is someone who takes pride in representing the University of Rhode Island, displays a strong work ethic, demonstrates unwavering commitment to his teammates, represents himself well in the community and is a leader both on and off the baseball field.
It had to be Brosius. The decision was a no-brainer.
"Tyler has come such a long way in his career," Cerrato said. "He went from a non-scholarship outfielder who was fighting to simply make the roster, to our current closer and a guy I have so much trust in. He's turned himself into one of the best relievers in the country, with a realistic chance to pitch at the professional level."
It's not just his performance on the mound that demands respect, though.
"His work ethic is outstanding. He is a tremendous teammate and a natural leader," Cerrato added. "But beyond that, he is an excellent student. Just all around, he is the kind of guy you want representing your program, and someone the Ciancola family can be proud to have carrying on Joey's legacy."
The gravity of that responsibility is not lost on Brosius.
"It's an incredible honor," Brosius said. "You go out there every day and you play for your team, and your teammates, and your university. But to have the opportunity to play for someone else, who didn't have the chance to fulfill his own dreams? That's something that will be in the back of my mind every time I step out on the field this season."