Wherever he sits, he’ll analyze every pitch thrown by Lee and Burnett. That’s his year-long modus operandi, that and a follow-up discussion with each pitcher.

“It’s just kind of bouncing stuff off each other, kinda talking through some things,” he said. During a six-month season, little things go awry and both Lee and Burnett are more apt to listen to a former pitcher than a suit in an ivory tower.

Braunecker, who turns 40 next month, got into the agent business in 1997, tracking players and talking to scouts. He saw both Lee and Burnett in their mid-teens.
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He kept up with Lee’s career at Meridian Community College and made a cold call to Lee’s father one day. The left-hander was on his way home from Mississippi so Braunecker drove to Benton and all involved gathered around the kitchen table.

“We just sat at the table and visited,” he said. “I got a feel for what they were after. Shortly thereafter, they retained me.”

Braunecker first met Burnett in 1995, but he was represented by somebody else. When Burnett made it to the majors in 1999, he hired Braunecker, a friend of his father Bill.

Burnett is in the first year of a five-year deal worth more than $80 million. The Phillies acquired Lee from Cleveland during the season and have a one-year option for 2010. Ironically, Lee and C.C. Sabathia, who will start for the Yankees tonight, became such good friends at Cleveland that they might dine together during the Series. If Lee takes the $9 million next year, he would become a free agent the following year and a left-handed Cy Young Award winner such as Lee can demand untold riches.

“My job is to instruct them what their value is,” Braunecker said. “That’s what they rely on us for, to educate them.”

He knows what other players are paid.

“You always try to push the envelope,” he said. “If there is not a market, you try to create a market for him. Once you get a feel for that, you try to elevate the market.”

There are many variables, starting with 30 potential employers.

There is no formal training for the job, no training guide per se. A sports management degree doesn’t teach you how to be a sports agent, Braunecker said.

The job includes unconventional hours and many days with virtually no compensation.

More and more, former scouts are getting into the business. “It’s not difficult to get in; it’s extremely difficult to stay in,” Braunecker said.

He and his two partners represent 60 athletes, all of them baseball players. The business is so specialized that there is no time for delving into the NBA or the NFL.

His client roster changes, but his percentage from the contracts of Lee and Burnett allows him to be selective in signing up new players. Plus, he gets good seats for the World Series.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.

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