Back in 2003, you could find Brooks Brown pitching his Portal Panthers to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs. Nowadays, the 30-year old right-hander can be seen trotting out of the bullpen to hold down a lead for the Colorado Rockies in the late innings.
Following his days with Portal, Brown was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 21st round of the 2003 MLB draft, but opted to pitch for the University of Georgia. A stellar career as a Bulldog paid off as the Arizona Diamondbacks took Brown with the 34th overall pick in the 2006 draft.
As a first round selection, the future was bright, but Brown had to endure a slow climb through the minor leagues. After three years in the Diamondbacks’ farm system, Brown was traded to the Detroit Tigers.
He was granted free agency by the club after three more seasons in the minors before signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012 and then repeating the free agency dance to land in the Rockies’ organization in 2013.
Brown spent all of 2013 with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians and was assigned to the Triple-A Colorado SkySox – his ninth minor league team – to begin 2014.
“All the time I was in the minors, I was just focusing on improving and hopefully someday making it to the majors,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t say that there was a lot of doubt, but I was starting to think about what might be after baseball if I didn’t make it soon.”
And then, on a routine night last July, Brown – who had been closing out games for the SkySox – was left out of a close contest.
“I thought something might be up when it was a save situation and they didn’t tell me to get loose,” Brown said. “After the game, they told me to pack up and meet (the Rockies) out in Los Angeles.
“As exciting as that was, the best part was telling everyone. I’ve got a wife and kids and family who have supported me the whole way. Getting to tell them was one of the best moments of my life.”
On July 6, Brown was about as far away as he could be from his career’s early days. From the diamond at Portal, all the way to Major League Baseball’s largest venue – Dodger Stadium – Brown got the call from the bullpen, working out of the jam the Rockies’ starter had gotten into before tossing a perfect sixth inning.
Brown went on to make 27 more appearances for Colorado last season and impressed the team enough to make the opening day roster this season. So far in 2015, Brown has compiled an 0-2 record and a 3.63 ERA over 23 appearances.
Some shoulder discomfort briefly took Brown out of action in May, but he has bounced right back and has allowed just one run in his last seven appearances.
“I’m feeling a lot better now,” Brown said. “My arm feels good and I’ve been throwing the way I want to.”
Brown’s role in the bullpen isn’t for the faint of heart.
As a middle reliever, Brown doesn’t get the pomp and circumstance of a closer entering the game to nail down a win, but he does frequently get thrown into possible game-changing situations in the middle of an inning.
If a starter – or another reliever – is tiring, the job of being the fresh arm that takes on the opponent’s best batters can also be the assignment.
“The best advice I’ve gotten is to view everyone as the scouting report,” Brown said. “It might be some power hitter up there, but I’m just thinking about if he’s right-handed or left-handed and what pitches I’m going to throw and where.”
Overall, Brown sports a solid 3.16 ERA over 48.1 innings in the majors. He’s still looking for his first victory as a big leaguer – something that can be hard to come by for middle relievers – but isn’t too worried about it.
“Getting called up last year was a dream come true,” Brown said. “I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.