'She was a tremendous player'
“That ball was still rising when it went over the left fielder’s head,” Davis said. “Katie scored before it even got back to the infield.”
That, in a nutshell, sums up Katie Brewster’s career at McMinnville. A right-handed hitter, when Brewster came to the plate, opposing players backed up as far as they could. Everyone knew she was going to hit the ball hard somewhere. It was just a matter of how far it would go.
Brewster, a 1997 graduate of McMinnville High School, earned a pile of all-conference and all-state awards for the Grizzlies and compiled some truly astonishing stats. Despite all the awards and statistics that were attributed to her name, Brewster to this day still downplays those accomplishments. She said she played just because she loved softball and is embarrassed to talk too much about herself.
Her former coaches, like Davis and Dave Kellmer, are not afraid to gush.
“Needless to say,” Kellmer said, “She was a tremendous player.”
Brewster’s class started a new era of softball at McMinnville. In her senior year in 1997, the Grizzlies made the playoffs for the first time. All of a sudden there was a push to start a youth softball program in town. For being one of the pioneers of softball in the community and much more, Brewster is one of five inductees into the McMinnville Hall of Fame.
Playing with the boys
One thing you cannot say of Katie Brewster is that she was afraid. When she was four years old, her parents gave her a baseball bat, ball and glove. She grew up in a household with four older siblings and would play baseball with her brothers. They were pitiless at times and rough, but that prepared her for future encounters.
McMinnville didn’t have an established youth softball program in the mid-1980s, so Brewster played baseball with the boys. Her developed toughness and skill surprised many of her opponents.
“I’d get razzed,” Brewster said, “but at the same time, there were some extremely funny moments when guys didn’t expect me to get hits or make plays, and I would see them flinch when I made contact. I could hold my own, though, so once they saw I could play, they let it go.”
Of course, the boys her age might have backed down too, once they realized she was just as good at dishing out the razzing.
“I wasn’t one to just sit and take it,” Brewster said, a rich, infectious laugh escaping from her. “Sometimes I would get into trouble because of that.”
Early on, Brewster said, she knew she was pretty good. She played all the time with her brothers and sisters, and her dad would throw her pitches for hours on end to hone her hitting. Once she turned 13, Brewster said she started to make the transition to softball. She continued to play baseball until high school, but her dad, Tom, and mom, Becky, would drive her all over the state for practices and weekend tournaments.
“I played year round,” Brewster said. “It was nonstop.”
Changing a culture
Brewster played freshman volleyball and basketball when she entered high school, but softball was still her main focus. When she was 13, Brewster played on an 18U travelling team called the I-5 Bandits. Then it was two years with the Southern Belles, then the Oregon Angels, the Oregon Panthers and an elite team out of Portland her senior year called Strictly Softball.
Brewster quickly dropped her other sports to build even more time for her passion. In the offseason, she would meet her mom at work, who would then drive Brewster to practice in Salem or Portland. When she had some time off, she was at home taking cuts from her dad. Weekends consisted of tournaments, sometimes playing as many as eight games in a weekend.
“That was a weekend for me,” she said. “I didn’t know anything else.”
Brewster’s freshman year was a tough one for the Grizzlies. Mac finished 1-24 under Cheryl Shockey. Brewster started, flashing glimpses of the power and hitting potential that she would be known for in the future. Still, the softball program had never been successful in McMinnville.
“It was a challenge for her at times because we didn’t win a lot of games,” Kellmer said.
Part of the problem, Kellmer and Davis say, is that there really wasn’t a dedicated youth softball program in town. In 1995, Davis, Kellmer, Tom Brewster and a handful of other parents and boosters decided to change that. They wanted to change the culture surround the softball program, so they created MAGS — McMinnville Area Girls Softball. Later that transitioned into joining the ASA, but the base was finally in place. Now it would just take time.
“There was an emphasis, finally, that said as a softball community, we need to support the program,” Davis said. “The high school coaches can’t develop players from their freshmen year on. They have to have kids come in with skills already developed to a certain point, then build on that.”
While there was progress at the lower end, Brewster and her class slowly started winning. Davis took over the program in 1995 in the interim. His daughter, Rhonda, was a senior, and Brewster was a sophomore. Kellmer was an unpaid assistant on that team, and his daughter, Alicia, was also in Brewster’s class.
The Grizzlies finished 10-16 and 6-12 in the Pacific-7 Conference. It was Mac’s best record since 1985, and Brewster provided many of the highlights. In a 5-1 loss April 10, 1995 at Forest Grove, Brewster hit a triple to centerfield that Davis told The News-Register at the time was, “as well hit as you’ll ever see in a softball game.”
A day later, Brewster went 3-for-4 with a home run, a double and three RBIs in an 8-2 win vs. Silverton. Two weeks after that Brewster hit a grand slam vs. Silverton in a 19-3 win.
Brewster’s ability to hit softballs like lasers into the sky soon created a fearsome reputation.
“I loved hitting,” Brewster said. “I loved it. I took it as a challenge because teams would play back after my freshman year.”
Her hitting prowess was honed by hours of practice, but some of it was natural.
“It just came to me,” Brewster said. “It was easy. The ball was a watermelon that came into me.”
A lot of the softball fields where Mac played didn’t have fences — including Mac’s home field — so outfielders would keep backpedaling when Brewster walked to the plate.
“I would get walked a lot, and it just drove me nuts,” she said. “I know it was a sign of respect, but I wanted to hit.”
Sometimes she was so eager to hit, Brewster would take a cut at ball that was in the dirt or intentionally thrown outside, much to the chagrin of Kellmer.
“It was a mystery to me why other coaches even pitched to her,” Kellmer said with a chuckle. “You have to give her dad, Tom, credit. There were a lot of hours spent working on that. She put in a lot of hard work.”
Brewster said she took it as a challenge when teams played her back.
“I don’t care how far back they were playing,” she said, “I wanted to make them run. I wanted to hit it over their heads.”
She often did. Brewster led the Grizzlies in hitting her sophomore, junior and senior years and kept astonishing fans when they read the box scores in the paper. In 1996, Mac won another 10 games, and Brewster continued to have games like the one at home vs. Dallas on April 30, 1996 when she was 4-for-4 with two home runs, a triple and three RBIs.
That season, Brewster was the Pac-7 runner-up for player of the year and was a unanimous first-team selection. She was all-state as well and led the Grizzlies with a .550 batting average
Brewster’s senior year in 1997 was when the Grizzlies finally broke through. She had committed in the fall to play at the University of Utah, and Kellmer’s daughter, Alicia, was an all-state pitcher who was also preparing to play in college. Brewster continued to put up big numbers (see a 5-for-5 performance vs. Lake Oswego that included a home run and four RBIs), and with two games left in the regular season, the Grizzlies were in a battle with Dallas for the fourth — and final — playoff spot from the conference.
On May 7, 1997, Mac tied Dallas after beating Newberg 8-7 on the road. Two days later in the season finale, the Dragons and Grizzlies played at Baker Field in a do-or-die game for the playoffs. Kelly DeForrest scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning, sending Mac to the postseason for the first time in school history. Brewster was 1-for-3 in the game with a triple.
“To finish that way and host a playoff game was a lot of fun,” Kellmer said.
The Grizzlies lost their first ever playoff game 4-3 at home vs. Central Catholic. Brewster was 2-for-3 in her final high school game with a home run, but Mac committed nine errors and lost on a base running blunder with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
Still, Brewster remembers all the good moments from her high school and summer travelling days. She was the conference player of the year, batted .511, hit three home runs, four triples and had 28 RBIs. She also never struck out.
“I had fun playing softball,” she said. “It’s just what I did.
“I still have friends in just about every state that I still talk to.”
After Brewster graduated, the McMinnville softball program has gone on to better success. In 2006, the Grizzlies won their first playoff game. The next season, Mac won the Pacific Conference and advanced to the state quarterfinals. With a youth program fully established, players are getting the experience they need before they reach the high school ranks.
“The numbers increased,” said Kellmer, who coached for years in McMinnville. “(1997) was definitely the foundation for some really good things to follow.”
College and today
Brewster lasted only one season at the University of Utah. She was mostly a designated hitter, and not being able to catch upset her a bit, she said. Brewster was also extremely homesick. She just wasn’t enjoying herself like she had before.
“At that level, it’s no longer a game but a job,” Brewster said. “I couldn’t see it like that. It was always just a game for me. That’s mentality just isn’t shared at that level.
“You could say that I lost the love of the game.”
Brewster moved back to Oregon in the fall of 1998 and enrolled at Clackamas Community College. She played softball one year there then signed to play during the 1999-2000 school year at Portland State. Brewster went through the fall but never suited up for the Vikings.
“I beat my body up bad,” Brewster said. “It was fun while it lasted.”
Since then, Brewster has stayed in the area. She got her EMT license from Chemeketa Community College in 2001 and worked in a retirement home in McMinnville. She started working for the City of McMinnville supervising youth and adult recreational sports.
While Brewster was working in Dallas for a rehabilitation clinic after eventually earning her bachelor’s of science in 2009, Brewster met her future wife, Tiffany. The two were married on Oct. 11, 2012 in Hawaii. Today, the couple lives in Salem. Tiffany is a nurse at the state hospital, and Brewster is a receptionist for the Department of Human Services in Dallas. Brewster gave birth to the couple’s first child, Joselynn Nike Brewster, four weeks ago.
Thursday, Brewster sat in the grandstands at Duniway Middle School, watching a little league baseball team practice. It was easy for her to recall her own playing days.
“I was just there to play,” she said. “I just played. I didn’t mean to make a statement. I didn’t try to put anything on the map or open doors for anyone. I was just playing.”