VANCOUVER - The dream is over for Eric Brown after three seasons in the Toronto Blue Jays’ system.
A former member of both the UBC Thunderbirds and Vancouver Canadians, Brown didn’t leave professional baseball a broken man but rather with a broken arm. Sadly for him, he was struck by a line drive on his pitching arm late last summer. Surgery was required. A plate and screws were inserted. For a pitcher, this is never a good thing.
Brown, a right-hander, was playing for the Midwest League’s Lansing Lugnuts at the time. He was there after a mid-season promotion from Vancouver.
“It was my last outing of the season,” Brown recalled Monday in an interview. “After the surgery, which was done in Florida, all I could do was wait for it to heal but it took so long. Then I just decided I didn’t want to have to train for three months and get back in shape and try to steal a job.
“It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever made. But it was time to move on to the next stage of my life. Basically, I am retired.”
As a 50th-round pick in the 2011 MLB draft, Brown was the longest of shots to make the big leagues. He split each of his three seasons between the C’s and the Lugnuts but never made it beyond the single A level. At age 25, and coming off the injury, he could read the roster writing on the wall.
He was registered at UBC for the full 2013-14 academic year and nearing completion of his kinesiology degree. So he had an option other than a fastball, curve and slider. He took it.
“It was January and I hadn’t lifted or thrown yet and I had to make that choice of what I was going to do,” explained Brown, a native of Thunder Bay, Ont. “Do I drop my classes? Do I go to my classes? Do I try to get in shape? I decided it was time to stay with my classes, time to just graduate. On May 22, I am finally getting that piece of paper.
“I was happy and honoured to get a chance in pro baseball. Obviously I am thankful to the Blue Jays for giving me that opportunity, for believing in me and sticking with me as long as they did, and even inviting me back this year.”
Now it is on to the rest of Eric Brown’s life. He has been accepted into UBC’s education program, starts in the fall and intends to become an elementary school teacher, grade levels to be determined. He doesn’t think he is finished with baseball either.
His old UBC coach, Terry McKaig, has big plans for a baseball complex on campus and will likely need all manner of instructors to run the proposed clinics and camps. Brown is very interested.
“I would definitely love to work in baseball and I’m hoping to get some work when Terry gets that thing off the ground,” said Brown. “I haven’t really coached that much but I’ve been doing camps and clinics since I’ve been playing at a high level. I can definitely do instruction, for sure, and see where that takes me.”
McKaig, whose Thunderbirds won this past weekend’s NAIA West regional tournament to advance along the playoff trail, is proud of what Brown accomplished considering his 50th-round selection. Brown is one of 18 T-Birds to be drafted by a major league team.
“Eric had a better career than 90 per cent of the 50th-round picks,” noted McKaig, named NAIA West coach of the year Monday. “He out-pitched that expectation and he gave it a shot. Now that he’s come back to UBC, we’ll try to get him into our program. We’ll need a lot of staff.”
In three pro seasons, Brown posted a win-loss record of 11-10 with one save and a 3.78 earned run average. He fanned 155 while walking 47. His best stint came in the first half of the 2013 Canadians’ season when he went a dominant 5-1 in nine starts, fanned 46 and walked only eight.
He won three Northwest League championships rings for his work with the C’s.
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