SLUGGING SURPRISE: Two Diamond Dogs knocked a pair of home runs out of Taylor Park last weekend. Not surprisingly, Brent Rooker was one. The somewhat surprise was Brown taking a couple over the fence.
Or maybe it wasn’t so much surprising? Brown after all slugged a solo shot at the SEC Tournament as well, and even allowing that Hoover 2017 saw an unprecedented barrage this was no small feat. Playing inside a much cozier Hattiesburg venue, both of Brown’s bombs were no-doubters.
This gives him nine homers on his senior season…after hitting just five over the previous three years. Just remember, despite the inevitable ‘down town’ nickname assigned him a couple years ago by the p.r. staffer, Brown is not looking to leave the yard.
“It’s a great feeling to hit a home run. But I’m just going to stick with my gameplan, try to keep it middle-approach. If I end up driving one over the fence, so be it.”
To be clear, the fences in Hattiesburg were in reach for just about anyone on any team. Now here Brown and Bulldogs are in Alex Box Stadium where balls also leave early and often. Even if he’s been producing more power lately Brown must resist temptation.
“My gameplan has never really been to hit a home run. I just kind of hit ‘em as they come.” Sure, but those have been coming more often as a senior, right?
“Yeah, and that comes with the approach and confidence in myself. Just getting at-bats after at-bats each weekend and stepping in the box with the right approach allows me to hit home runs.”
Or doubles, or even a triple as he did last weekend giving him a .947 slugging rate in the regional, better than Rooker in fact. Just don’t get the idea Brown is up there swinging away. He has worked a walk in his last four games and has struck out just twice in his last 37 at-bats.
SHUFFLING AND SWINGING: There is another non-secret to this senior success. Brown is playing every day. He’s started 58 of his 62 games, both career highs. His 213 at-bats so far more than double the 83 chances of 2016.
There were reasonable reasons Brown only started 20 times as a junior, in 43 games. State’s outfield was settled and none can argue with the SEC championship results. At the same time, there just had to be an opportunity for a Dog who is just a ballplayer.
Opportunity arrived this year. Make that, opportunities. After sitting the opening game, Brown began the senior year as…the first baseman, where he would start nine games.
In March and into April he was at second base in place of injured Hunter Stovall for 17 starts; before moving to full-time leftfielder for 22 total starts.
Wait, not all-time as beginning with the SEC Tournament he has been on third base. Call it coincidence, but since taking over the hot corner Brown has a post-season batting of 14-of-33 with an eight-game hitting streak.
“My game is hitting line drives through the infield and find holes, hitting a gapper every now and then. Just having a plan before getting in the box, whether it be a guy from Southern Miss or Alex Lange. Just knowing what the pitcher wants to do with me and having a plan and being able to execute that.”
In the process Brown is going out in style with a career-best batting average of .321.
LOOKING FOR LEATHER: Now, about the defensive side of things. Keep in mind that in late-game situations Brown will go back to leftfield so Luke Alexander can field at third base. It’s the ‘baseball move’ but to be clear Brown has not been charged with an error in any of his games on the corner. In fact, he has just three errors the entire season; all were on the right side of the infield, and the most recent was back on March 10!
So, to meet all his possible defensive duties…how many gloves does Brown bring to the ballpark? Well, it’s kind of vague. Brown does have one glove he will use at third and second; the outfielding glove of course. And there is a first baseman mitt available if necessary.
“We keep them all rotated throughout the team,” Brown said. “We have guys kind of playing everywhere right now.”
Wait, it gets more interesting. This doesn’t mean Brown has a big travel bag stuffed with leather. No, he gets some of them on temporary loan depending on when the defensive switches come.
“I borrow Stovie’s glove, and sometimes an outfield mitt if I have to go mid-inning. Yeah, I’ll bring Stovie’s mitt to the field and then I’ll bring my other outfield mitt to the field as well.” But, what if Coach Andy Cannizaro opts to adjust his defense during play? Then Brown has looked for loose leather.
“I have, Tanner Poole’s and Hunter Vansau’s, I’ve had to borrow theirs mid-inning when I got called to run out there.” It can get a little complicated sometimes, but generally this means both of those have left the game officially and their glove is free for use.
“Oh, they’d already been in in the game. So I would run from third straight to the outfield and we just switch-off right there.” And yes, there have been times Brown has gone through the dugout calling for someone, anyone to give him a glove. “It happened in the (SEC) Tournament, and maybe Auburn as well playing second base. I had to run one down to go play outfield.”
Of course it’s unlikely any Dog will match the stock of leather kept in a locker by Hunter Renfroe. At one point the former Diamond Dog great had as many as six different gloves for possible use.
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Brown said. “He was a freak, he could lay anywhere he wanted to. But I’m only bringing two to the field right now, it used to be three. I’ve got to be ready every day.”
STYLE STATEMENT…OR NOT: It’s tournament time, and with it comes a fresh round of new gear supplied by Mississippi State’s partner adidas. The newest item is easy to see, too; gleaming silvery shoes with maroon strings, trim, and of course the three stripes.
The fresh cleats are available to all and several Diamond Dogs used Friday’s practice to break them in. As far as looks, “They’re awesome,” per Brown. “You always get stuff especially when we’re in the post-season. It’s pretty cool to get a few extra little things, pieces of gear. We got some new batting gloves as well and a nice little super regional tee-shirt. They always hook us up pretty good.”
This said…Brown was not leaning to making any fashion footwear statements.
“I might just stick with the old ones. They’ve been doing me good, I’ve got a little superstition in those. I’ve got them all broken-in the way I like.”
His left-side infield partner Ryan Gridley is going for the new shoes. But, still wearing the shredded game pants, which epitomizes the shortstop’s quirky contradictions.
“Yeah, that’s pretty much him. I always joke around, he doesn’t have much style,” Brown said. “But he just does what he does, I don’t care what he wears as long as he keeps producing like he is.”