Cormier & Brown turn down pros

Though their year wasn't nearly as disastrous as football's, Tide baseball finished a disappointing 32-23, 15-15 in the SEC and out of post-season play. And when dual all-stars Jeremy Brown & Lance Cormier were chosen in the recent baseball draft, things didn't look good for Head Coach Jim Wells' immediate rebuilding plans. But turning down major-league money in the process, both Brown and Cormier will be back for one last season in Crimson. "We have a lot of unfinished business," said Cormier.

Selected in the 10th and 19th rounds respectively, Cormier and Brown both seriously considered jumping early to the Major Leagues. But thankfully (for Bama fans at least), things didn't work out. "There were a lot of things involved," Cormier explained. "Money was one factor. I didn't think the money that they offered me was enough. It was a good offer for that round, but I didn't think it was enough for me to leave Alabama.

After moving to catcher at the start of the season, Brown played errorless defense while hitting at a .363 clip, good enough for fourth in the Southeastern Conference. (photo scanned from the UA Baseball media guide)

"I want to go to Omaha (for the College World Series). I went there once before, but I want to go again and pitch. I was hurt my freshman year when we last went."

From one year to the next, every coach worries over assembling the right mix of experience and talent. And these dual decisions to return provide Coach Wells with a solid nucleus of veterans for next year's squad. "We expected them to sign," Wells said. "We even went out and recruited guys to replace them, but now we'll have a lot of our veterans back. Jeremy Brown and Lance Cormier who were drafted are coming back, and Brent Boyd and Scott McClanahan are two other senior starters returning."

Pitching in a team-high 109.2 innings while earning a 9-5 record, Cormier was the most reliable starter Alabama had last season. And his 2.30 ERA--good enough to lead the SEC--helped earn him second-team all-conference honors. A Finance major at The University, Cormier also achieved Academic All-America status.

"I tried to provide some leadership last season, but I think this will be my year," Cormier said. "I'm not really a vocal leader, but I do try and lead on the field and off the field with my actions. We've got several guys that have been here four years. Me, (Scott) McClanahan, Brent Boyd and Jeremy Brown. We're going to have to be the leaders. And since I'm the only pitcher in that group, I'm going to have to do some leading on the pitching staff."

After switching from first base to catcher in a pre-season move to help the team, all Brown did was play errorless ball on his way to a stellar year. Finishing with a .363 batting average, Brown hit safely 69 times and scored 47 runs. His .574 slugging percentage included 10 home runs and 48 RBIs. A first-team All-SEC selection, Brown was named second-team All-America by Rawlings and Baseball Weekly, while Collegiate Baseball listed him third-team. The Hueytown native's greatest honor was as a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, recognizing him as one of the top college catchers in the nation.

As returning three-year starters, both Brown and Cormier will be counted on to lead next year's squad. "Coach Wells has sat down with some of us and said that he needs us to be leaders this year," Cormier said. "Just being here for four years, I know I'm going to be one of those guys."

Finishing the year with the lowest ERA (2.30) among SEC starters, Cormier will be counted on to lead Bama's pitching staff this season.

Along with its solid core of senior stars, Alabama has a talented group of newcomers set to report in the fall. And Cormier sees similarities with Alabama's 1999 squad--which also happened to be Bama's last World Series participant. "We've got a lot of older guys that are experienced and a lot of new guys that are very good," Cormier explained. "It's going to be a lot like when Andy Phillips and G.W. Keller (both All-Americans) were seniors my freshman year."

"That's a good comparison," acknowledged Wells. "We were basically a bunch of freshmen with Andy, G.W. and Manny Torres. Those older guys and the young talent made for a very good year. I hope we can get that same winning formula going again this year."

"You look back and see what G.W. and Andy did, and it's encouraging," Cormier added. "Both of them had a good senior year. That year we had several pitchers drafted that came back. So they were in similar situation. Those guys came back and bettered themselves, so I'm hoping for the same."

Of course for Alabama to have any realistic chance of returning to Omaha, then a starting pitcher must step up and handle the role of Friday-night starter. "There's a little pressure on me," Cormier admitted. "But it's good pressure. It's pressure you want. Every pitcher wants to be the guy with the ball. Ever since I've been here, I've wanted to be the guy. Every team has that Friday-night man, and you've got to want to be him."

"Sure there will be a lot of pressure to go out there to open a series (on Friday night)," Cormier continued. "But that spot is not set in stone. We've got other guys coming that could beat me out for the role. But I'm going to give it my best. I'm going to work my hardest. I know nobody's going to out-work me to get that spot. I'll just try and go out there every time and give my team the best chance to win."

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