Brown honored as best catcher in college baseball

Wichita, Kansas -- University of Alabama senior catcher Jeremy Brown has been named the winner of the 2002 Johnny Bench Award presented at the 5th annual Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission banquet Tuesday night.

"The Greater Wichita Sports Commission would like to congratulate all of the award finalists and especially Jeremy Brown, the 2002 Johnny Bench National Collegiate Catcher of the Year," Bob Hanson, President and CEO of the Greater Wichita Sports Commission, said. "Jeremy represents the University of Alabama in a remarkable manner."

Brown edged out Southern California junior Alberto Concepcion and University of Houston junior Chris Snyder to win the 2002 award, presented annually to college baseball's top catcher.

"Wow, this is great," Brown said upon receiving the 2002 Johnny Bench Award. "I'd like to thank my family and my coaches for all of their support over the past four years. It's is truly an honor to receive this award from the best catcher of all time, Mr. Johnny Bench."

Bench, a native of Oklahoma City, Okla., and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, was on hand to present the award. Bench was the starting catcher for the Cincinnati Reds back-to-back World Series championship teams in 1975 and 1976.

Former Los Angeles Dodger first baseman Steve Garvey delivered the keynote address to more than 350 people in attendance at the Grand Eagle Ballroom at the downtown Wichita Hyatt Regency hotel. The banquet recognizes the achievements and dedication of local youth, high school, college and professional coaches in the Wichita area.

The three finalists spent Tuesday morning working a youth clinic designed specifically for catchers. During the afternoon they visited the pediatric ward of the Via Christi St. Francis in Wichita.

Brown was joined in attendance by his mother, Lila, and younger brother Dustin. Alabama head baseball coach Jim Wells was also in attendance Tuesday night to see his All-American catcher win this prestigious award.

"When an outfielder runs into a wall or pitcher is hit in the shin the coach will come off the bench to see if he is alright," Johnny Bench told the crowd Tuesday night. "When a catcher goes down they say ‘Ah he's fine.' No one cares about the catcher. Well, now the Sports Commission cares and this award is a testament to that."

A two-year starter behind the plate for Alabama, Brown was a runner up to Baylor's Kelly Shoppach in last year's voting, is the second Southeastern Conference catcher to win the Johnny Bench Award in its three-year history. LSU's Brad Cresse won the inaugural award in 2000.

A native of Hueytown, Ala., appeared in 66 games for Alabama this season and compiled a .320 (70-for-219) with 11 home runs and 64 RBI. He also set the UA single season record with 69 walks, surpassing the previous total of 66 walks held by Bret Elbin in 1983.

Brown made only one error for Alabama in is final 119 games at the Capstone. He set the UA single-season record with a 1.000 fielding percentage in 2001 and made only one error this year, compiling a .998 fielding clip. He also was second in the SEC with seven pickoffs and ranked among the league leaders by throwing out 43 percent of his attempted base stealers.

A first-round pick of the Oakland Athletics, Brown concluded his UA career as the all-time leader for games played (251), games started (251), runs scored (244), walks (207) and putouts (1,660). He is the only player in SEC history with 300 career hits (307) and 200 career walks (207).

In addition, Brown was named Second-Team All-America by the National Collegiate Baseball Writer's Association and was a First-Team All-SEC pick for the second consecutive year. He was also the NCBWA District III Player of the Year and a finalist for the 2002 Dick Howser Trophy, presented by the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and Verizon.

Brown is currently playing for the Vancouver (British Columbia) Canadians in the short-season Northwest League. After travelling to Wichita on Tuesday, he will rejoin his minor league team this afternoon in Vancouver.

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