PORT ANGELES — When many fellow freshmen around the country were settling in to new routines in their early days at college, Port Angeles Lefties first baseman/pitcher Ron Brown and his family were being airlifted out of harm’s way as hurricane-produced flood waters rapidly advanced upon their second-floor residence.
“We had been in school for maybe two weeks when [Hurricane] Harvey hit,” Brown, a Houston native, said. “I noticed Harvey was coming, so that night I went home and we moved our cars to a higher spot and we went out to the [Brays] Bayou, and saw the water level was coming up. And the next morning was when all that stuff happened. It was quick. We woke up the next morning and I could see in my mom’s face that she was really traumatized. We were on the second floor and the water was almost all the way up and we just had to get out of there quick.”
Brown said his family joined thousands of others of hurricane evacuees taking shelter at the city’s downtown George R. Brown Convention Center, which quickly became overwhelmed with as many as 30,000 people due to the severity of the storm.
“It was pretty rough,” Brown said.
“But the city of Houston bounced back off of that and I loved being part of that recovery. I’m a big hometown kid, a big believer in giving back to my city and my community, so I really enjoy playing for the University of Houston and doing what I can.”
That included assisting in recovery efforts with his Cougars baseball team.
“After Harvey cleared out we went with our coaching staff and spread out and helped pick up debris, helped people clean out their houses. It was nice to give back,” Brown said.
School resumed a week after the storm and Brown settled down, earning good grades (a GPA above 3.0), but hit just .135 in 22 games (eight starts) at first base for Houston, which wrapped its season with an NCAA Regional appearance.
“I didn’t have a really good freshman year, but I would say going from high school ball to division one, even coming from an elite high school, I would say it was a big adjustment and a big learning experience,” Brown said.
“From high school to college baseball the game speeds up a lot and everyone out there pretty much is a dude.”
Despite those initial struggles, Brown himself is “a dude.”
Blessed with size and power at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, baseballs are beginning to fly off Brown’s bat with regularity this summer.
Brown hit home runs in back-to-back games last week at home against Kelowna and crushed two home runs in back-to-back contests during Port Angeles’ most recent road trip at Cowlitz.
“Dead center its about 400 feet to the barn, their hitting cage,” Lefties manager Darren Westergard said. The wind is blowing straight in, the [American] flag is blowing straight in on us and he hits it halfway up over these light poles up over the barn in center field. I grew up in Centralia, I’ve played tons of games there and I’ve never seen a ball hit like that.”
Westergard estimated the moon shot may have traveled 500 feet.
“[During batting practice at Civic Field] he hit the roof of that house, the one across the street behind the Y sign in left field. Another couple ended up in the yard in between there. And that’s to a part of the field where the ball doesn’t carry.”
Fans may see him represent the Lefties at the West Coast League’s Home Run Derby at Hollywood Beach (6:30 p.m. Monday, July 16).
“He is the candidate,” Westergard said. “He can hit the ball to Victoria.”
Brown said he’s trying to “simplify everything” during his at-bats.
“Not trying to swing so hard, not trying to hit to hit home runs and messing up my mechanics trying to do too much and really increasing my strikeouts,” he said. “Strikeouts aren’t fun.
“I’m sticking to less is more, and going out and having fun. Making contact, and getting back to those little league basics of see ball, hit ball.”
Part of that is learning to swing with a little less ferocity.
“I’m working on not being so aggressive in the box, not pitch selection-wise and hunting my certain pitch, but not being so aggressive as in swinging so hard.
“I’m a strong dude, and one thing I’ve had to really learn and what Ratz (Lefties hitting coach Trevor Podratz) has helped me with a lot is you don’t have to swing so hard to hit the ball out. Make good contact and let the pitcher supply the velo[city]. The ball is going to go out. Bat to ball, simplifying everything. Slowing down, breathing, and going out, having fun and letting your skills play for you.”
Westergard said Brown is becoming more and more calm as the summer progresses.
“He’s less angry and more relaxed,” Westergard said. “He’s figuring out he’s 6-4, 240 and he’s got ungodly power. You can’t teach that stuff. Just letting the natural ability take over, that’s what he’s simplified. I think the biggest thing that Ron has figured out this summer is just coming out of his shell and accepting that he is this big, strong athlete and just going with it.”
Brown, a right-hander, also has pitched in four games for Port Angeles. In his last outing, Brown went six strong innings in a 5-4 win over Kelowna, allowing three runs (none earned) on just one hit and three walks, while striking out seven.
He expects his role at Houston to expand to the mound next season and Brown said he would relish the opportunity.
“I love pitching, I love being on the mound, controlling the tempo of the game,” he said. “Pitchers are up there controlling everything. The game doesn’t start until you get on the mound, you throw the pitch. Being able to go to work up there knowing I have eight guys behind me, know that I don’t need to try and blow it past everybody but I can pitch to contact and know they have my back like I have theirs.”
And while he’s showing signs of becoming a promising power hitter, he admits he’s got work to do before he can call himself a power pitcher.
“When I first got here and started to pitch I was trying to be a power pitcher,” Brown said. “I quickly learned that I have a long ways to go before I can think about being a power pitcher. It’s not just going up there and throwing. I know I have a good arm, but you can’t just go up there and throw you’ll get licked up pretty good. So it’s a matter of working with [pitching] coach Daly and really him teaching me how to pitch.
“Things like hitting my spots, what’s a good pitch in this situation, a good pitch for this certain count. More strategy, more executing pitches. It’s not all about velo and trying to blow it past people because D1 baseball you can’t really throw much past people.”
And Brown said he’s enjoying his time playing and traveling around the Pacific Northwest.
The Houston Strong ballplayer may have at least found a future vacation destination.
“I’ve never been to this part of the U.S., so coming up here, seeing all these mountains, its gorgeous.” he said. “I love being out here, I love playing with people from all over the country. I get along with everybody well and I’m having so much fun I wish I didn’t have to go home.”