Andrew Brackman can barely bring himself to say the words out loud.
The former North Carolina State power forward actually picked North Carolina to win the national championship in his NCAA Tournament bracket.
"I hated playing against those guys because we got beat by 25 points every time we went to Chapel Hill," said Brackman, who played baseball and basketball for the Wolfpack in 2005 and '06. "I wasn't surprised that (North) Carolina won it all. I hate to say it, but I picked them in my bracket. It's hard for me to say it having gone to (N.C.) State, but they were the best team in the country."
These days picking an NCAA pool sheet is about as close as the 6-10, 270-pound power pitcher gets to basketball anymore. As a freshman, Brackman averaged 7.6 points and 3.5 rebounds a game for the Wolfpack.
As a New York Yankees first-round draft pick, Brackman has put away his basketball shoes and is hoping one day to become a permanent fixture alongside CC Sabathia in the big club's starting rotation.
Brackman makes his Charleston RiverDogs debut tonight against the Rome Braves at 7:05 p.m. at Riley Park.
"Andrew has a plus, plus curveball and when you combine that with a 95 mph fastball, he should dominate this league," said RiverDogs manager Torre Tyson said. "We're happy to have him and hopefully for his sake he's not here very long. But for my sake I hope he's here for the entire season."
Although Brackman played briefly for the Waikiki BeachBoys in the Hawaii Winter League this winter, this will be his first extended season in nearly two years.
Brackman, the 30th overall pick in 2007, missed the entire 2008 season after undergoing "Tommy John" surgery to repair ligament damage in his elbow.
"I was used to playing two sports just about every day of my life," Brackman said. "So to do nothing for that long was very tough mentally. I missed being in that competitive environment."
The worst part for Brackman was waking up early every morning and trudging over to the Yankees training facility in Tampa, Fla., and going through the grueling rehabilitation process.
"I'd have to be there by 7 a.m. every morning, and when I wasn't hurt I'd be in the mindset of getting ready to play in a game," Brackman said. "But down there, I was like, 'great another day. I've got to come here and do this.' That was the toughest part. You can lose your competitive edge."
With most of the rehabilitation process behind him, Brackman, who received a $3.55 million signing bonus from the Yankees, has thrown consistently in the mid-90s during spring training.
"Everything feels great," Brackman said. "I feel like a kid again. I don't feel sore after I throw and it's great not to have any pain."
Tyson said Brackman has the tools to make it to the majors sooner than later.
"With his stuff he's going to get away with a lot of mistakes, so he doesn't need to walk guys," said Tyson. "He needs to develop control and command of his pitches. Much like Joba Chamberlain when he was coming up, you can make mistakes, but you can't walk guys.
"He's got to learn how to set up guys and how to pitch and not just throw the ball. Other than that, he's got all the physical tools."
Brackman won't be the RiverDogs only top flight starting pitcher. Former Clemson star D.J. Mitchell and left-hander Manny Banuelos are expected to make an immediate impact.
"It looks like we've got some superior starting pitching," Tyson said. "Starting pitching is definitely going to be strength of this team, at least for the first couple of months."
Banuelos is an especially intriguing prospect. Just 18 and with a slight 5-10, 155-pound frame, Banuelos throws the ball in the low 90s. Tyson doesn't believe Banuelos will be in Charleston for long.
"I'm trying not to get too high on him because I personally think he'll be the best pitcher in the whole league," Tyson said. "Again, you don't know what's going to happen when the lights go on when you're 18 years old and he starts pitching in front of crowds. But in the short time I've known this kid, he's got all the tools.
"He's off the charts mentally. He's got a great work ethic. He locates all of his pitches. He throws 92-94 mph consistently. He's got a plus change up, a plus, plus curveball. I think this guy is going to be in the Big Leagues real soon."
Tyson said Mitchell should be a mainstay in the RiverDogs' rotation all season.
"He's a quiet guy, goes about his business and gets the job done," Tyson said. "He's going to be very good in this league because he has three quality pitches. He's a guy that has a very good command and control on his pitches, so we're excited about having him here."
RIVERDOGS VS. ROME BRAVES
Teams/affiliates: Charleston RiverDogs (New York Yankees) vs. Rome Braves (Atlanta Braves)
When: Tonight, 7:05 p.m.; Friday, 7:05 p.m.; Saturday, 7:05 p.m.; Sunday, 5:05 p.m.
Where: Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park
Tickets: $5-$12, 577-DOGS
Promotions: Tonight - Opening Night, free Comcast magnet schedules, Thirsty Thursday ($1 food and drink specials); Friday - Postgame fireworks show, Force Protection Red Shirt Friday (wear a red shirt and get $1 off walk-up ticket price), Charlie The RiverDog's birthday); Saturday - Economic Stimulus Night (first 1,000 fans get a free Dodge Stuff My Pockets RiverDogs Wallet, some packed with cash), Run Forrest Run 5K race; Sunday - The Return of the Great Egg Hunt, Dog Day (dogs get in free).
Radio: WTMZ 910-AM and www.riverdogs.com (online only Saturday night)
Players to watch: The RiverDogs' pitching staff includes top Yankees pitching prospect Andrew Brackman, a 6-10 former N.C. State baseball and basketball player, and former Clemson pitcher D.J. Mitchell; the Rome pitching staff includes five pitchers Baseball America rates among the Atlanta Braves' top 25 prospects - Randall Delgado, Zeke Spuruill, Paul Clemens, J.J. Hoover and Jacob Thompson.
April 11 Run, Forrest, Run 5K Race
April 12 Dog Days: Where fans can bring their pooch to the park
April 15 Cooterfest '09: Recognizing the Allendale County tradition of turtle raising
May 2 Salary Cap Giveaway: Baseball does not utilize one, but it can still be fashionable
May 5 Education Day at 11:05 a.m.
May 7 Midget Wrestling Night
May 9 Salute to the Slinky Night Featuring the Human Slinky entertainer
May 20 Military Appreciation Night
May 23 The Return of the ZOO-perstars!
May 24 Dog Days: Where fans can bring their pooch to the park
May 26 Hair Nets & Plastic Gloves Night — A Salute to the Lunch Ladies!
May 27 Education Day at 11:05 a.m.
June 11 Salute to the G-String: Select fans receive "G" string, puting a new spin on playing a "G" Sharp
June 18 Here's to you Mr. Competitive Adult Softball Player Night
June 19 2nd annual Topps Pro Scouts Hall of Fame Night
June 20 10th annual "Kindness Beats Blindness" Auction
June 21 Dog Days: Where fans can bring their pooch to the park
June 30 Firefighter Appreciation Night
June 30 Nancy Appreciation Night: Tipping a cap to all the Nancys, real or contrived
July 3 Independence Day Celebration
July 14 My Hot Dog is GREEN! Night
July 15 Go Back to Ohio Night II: Salute to Choke Artists
July 16 The Price is Right, Drew!
July 19 Christian Concert featuring former Lonestar front-man Richie McDonald
Aug. 11 Football Night — Illegal Use of Your Ed Hochuli: Recognizing the popular NFL referee
Aug. 13 Condiment Wars 3 — Yee Haw Texas Pete!
Aug. 14 Charleston Baseball Hall of Fame Night
Aug. 15 Salute to Negro League Baseball: With replica Homestead Grays jersey giveaway
Aug. 26 Military Appreciation Night
Sept. 3 Midget Wrestling Night
Sept. 7 Fan Appreciation Night
2009 CHARLESTON RIVERDOGS ROSTER
No. Player Age HT. WT. B T 2008 Club
30 Cory Arbiso 22 6-3 210 R R Staten Island
20 Manny Banuelos 18 5-10 155 L L Gulf Coast
11 Brandon Braboy 23 6-0 195 R R Staten Island
33 Andrew Brackman 23 6-10 240 R R Waikiki Beach
25 Casey Erickson 23 6-3 187 R R Chas. RiverDogs
32 Dan Kapala 22 6-5 220 R R RiverDogs
12 Brett Marshall 19 6-1 195 R R Gulf Coast
9 D.J. Mitchell 21 6-2 165 R R Clemson Tigers
19 Hector Noesi 22 6-2 174 R R GulfC/Staten I.
35 David Phelps 22 6-3 185 R R Staten Island
3 Brad Rulon 22 5-11 190 L R Staten Island
27 Pat Venditte 23 6-1 180 R S Staten Island
2 Mitch Abeita 23 6-0 190 R R Staten Island
26 Neall French 25 6-3 210 R R Gulf Coast
8 Chase Weems 20 6-2 170 L R RiverDogs
29 David Adams 21 6-2 205 R R Staten Island
21 Carmen Angelini 20 6-2 185 R R RiverDogs
34 Brian Baisley 26 6-3 225 R R RiverDogs
5 Walter Ibarra 21 5-11 180 S R RiveDogs
6 Garrison Lasiter 19 6-1 185 L R Gulf Coast
17 Mike Lyon 22 6-2 220 R R Staten Island
7 Abraham Almonte 19 5-9 205 S R RiverDogs
4 Dan Brewer 21 6-0 185 R R Staten Island
23 Taylor Grote 20 6-2 195 L R Staten Island
1 Ray Kruml 23 6-0 185 L R Staten Island
24 Melky Mesa 22 6-1 165 R R Staten Island
COACHES — Manager: Torre Tyson; Pitching Coach: Jeff Ware; Hitting Coach: Greg Colbrunn; First Base Coach: Sherman Obando.