Brewers draft Hissa in 21st round
By Louie St. George
Donnie Hissa grew up a rabid Milwaukee Brewers fan, which made his selection by the team Saturday in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft even sweeter.
Hissa was taken by the Brewers in the 21st round, and it caught the 2010 Northwestern High School graduate completely off-guard. Hissa, who just completed his senior season at Notre Dame, was fiddling on his phone at his parents’ Iron River home when he received a text message from ex-Fighting Irish teammate Steve Kerrigan.
“Congrats, man, you deserve it,” the text read.
Hissa was perplexed.
“And then I got three more texts in a row, and I was like, ‘oh, I think something’s actually happening,’ “ he recounted.
Hissa had vowed not to obsess over the draft; that responsibility fell to his girlfriend, Courtney Taylor, who was with Hissa on Saturday. She was tracking it via Twitter, which led Hissa to ask her: “Hey, will you check? I think I just got drafted.”
She did, and he had — and a wild celebration ensued.
“Everyone went crazy,” Hissa said. “It was an unbelievable experience.”
Hissa was brilliant on the mound for Notre Dame this spring. The 6-foot-7 right-handed reliever allowed 39 hits and struck out 48 in 50⅔ innings while crafting a 2.66 ERA. Opponents hit just .227 against him. A power pitcher, Hissa has reached 93 mph with his fastball.
His college coach said Hissa progressively improved during his four years in South Bend, Ind., lowering his season ERA from 11.57 as a freshman to 5.27 as a sophomore to 5.22 as a junior and finally to 2.66 as a senior.
“I think he’s gained a lot of confidence in himself and pitched more aggressively,” Notre Dame’s Mik Aoki said. “He’s a phenomenal kid, and I’m really happy for him that this opportunity has come about.”
Hissa, who also excelled in basketball and football at Northwestern, joined the Brewers’ rookie-league affiliate in Helena, Mont., on Monday.
His family couldn’t be happier. His dad, John Hissa, is a lifelong Milwaukee fan.
“It didn’t hit right away, and then you realize ‘oh my God, it’s the Brewers,’” John Hissa said. “It was pretty surreal.”
Entering the draft, which started Thursday, Hissa’s advisor told him to “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” He knew at least a few teams were interested in him, and that included the Brewers, according to regional scout Harvey Kuenn Jr. The scout was aggressively pushing Milwaukee to take the righty whose height gives him an imposing advantage.
Still, because of all the uncertainty involved with the draft, Hissa didn’t want to fret over every pick.
“Everyone was trying not to think about it,” said Hissa, who played for former UW-Superior coach Eddy Morgan with the Lakeshore Chinooks of the Northwoods League last summer. “We all knew it could happen, but we all knew at the same time there was a very good possibility that it wouldn’t happen.”
Hissa had a modest celebration with friends planned for Saturday night. There already was a big family party planned for next weekend to commemorate a number of milestones — Hissa’s graduation from Notre Dame; the 25th wedding anniversary of his parents, John and Gina; and the master’s degrees recently earned by his sister and brother-in-law, Nikki and Jeff Ojanen. The family was hoping to move the party up to Sunday so Hissa could partake before commencing his professional baseball career in Montana.
“My family and I couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity and I’m so honored to have been selected by the Milwaukee Brewers, my home state team,” said Hissa. “Hard work really does pay off and I can’t wait to continue my career at the next level. I feel incredibly blessed and am so thankful for the support of my family, friends and the entire Notre Dame community.”
HISSA HINTS: Hissa is the ultimate scholar-athlete — he was the Valedictorian at NHS in 2010, graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in finance, and was an All Big East Academic selection for three years. He entered his senior year with a 3.252 grade point average. … Notre Dame switched to the Atlantic Coast League for Hissa’s senior season. … At Northwestern, Hissa was a Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Division 2 All-State selection; he played for the North in the WBCA All-Star game, losing by one point to Josh Gassar and the South Squad; and helped his team to two state tournament berths, finishing runner-up in 2010. … Hissa also made the all-state football team as a lineman and helped that Tiger team to an unbeaten regular season record in 2009. … Hissa competed in the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Series, played for Team Wisconsin, and was a two-time Superior Telegram baseball Player of the Year. … The husband of his sister, Nikki, is Jeff Ojanen, the girls’ basketball coach at Cloquet. His brother, Timmy, will enter NHS this fall. … During his senior season at Notre Dame, Hissa showed the ability to be a long reliever, closer or a 1-2 inning guy in a team-high 31 games. He went 2-4 and picked up a team-high five saves. He participated in three shutouts and was sixth on the Irish with 50.2 innings of work. He also struck out 48 and held hitters to a .227 average. … According to Baseball America, Hissa’s fastball sits in the 89-93 mph range, while he features three off-speed pitches. … Hissa’s best weekend of his career might have come in his last appearance at Frank Eck Stadium as he tallied two saves and a win as the Irish swept Atlantic Coast Conference foe Pitt to close out the season in fine fashion.
NOTE: Mike Granlund contributed to this story.