By Andrew Shortall
10:00 PM PDT, June 16, 2010
La Cañada native Kelson Brown has been bouncing around the country the past four years playing baseball. He has gone from Oregon to Iowa and now to Pennsylvania, as a new journey is about to begin.
In 2006, Brown left his hometown of La Cañada after graduating from La Cañada High to play baseball for Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore. Brown returned home this spring after graduating, but wasn't there long.
He departed for Pennsylvania on Sunday, four days after being taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Players Draft.
Brown was carefully following the MLB draft at his house alone June 9, when he saw his name appear as the Pirates' 1,017 overall pick in the 34th round. He called his family and friends with the news, even before the Pirates' organization could call to congratulate him.
This summer, Brown will be playing Short-Season A-Ball for the State College Spikes of Pennsylvania, a minor league affiliate with the Pirates.
"Being drafted is the first step," Brown said. "I want to be a professional baseball player, and I still have a lot to prove and a lot to get better at. I think I've been given a good situation at Pittsburgh."
This first step he's taken is a gigantic one, which has been years in the making.
Ever since he can remember, Brown has dreamed of being a professional baseball player. He said it wasn't until his junior year of college that the goal became a real possibility.
That dream was still in its infancy in high school. Playing for La Cañada, Brown's team won the Rio Hondo League championship his junior year. As a senior, his Spartans squad ended up taking second in league. Both years the Spartans made the CIF Southern Section playoffs but were eliminated in the second round.
Brown earned second-team All-Rio Hondo League accolades in 2005 as a shortstop.
"My senior year I started at shortstop, but we needed pitching, so I stepped on the mound, and that was actually where I was most successful," Brown said.
He was a first-team all-league selection his senior year, playing shortstop and pitching.
"Obviously, the experience of playing in playoff games and being a leader of a team for the first time as a senior was good going into college," Brown said. "I feel like most of my growth as a player came in college though."
The Linfield College coaches probably didn't realize what a talent they were getting in Brown. He ended up making a huge impact on the program, and is only the second Wildcat to be drafted since Brian Barnett was picked by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997.
Brown said he pitched his entire freshman year because his arm strength was his only real strength at the time. Now, Brown has found his niche at shortstop — as well as at the plate.
A dedication to the weight room and his physical development changed Brown into a more complete player, he said.
As a senior, Brown was named an American Baseball Coaches Assn. first-team All-American at shortstop. In addition, he was named West Region and Northwest Conference Player of the Year.
He helped Linfield attain a third-place finish in the NCAA Division III Championships and notch a school-record 37 wins.
A number of other Linfield records were shattered by Brown during his senior campaign. He boasted a team-best — and third-best-all-time — .443 batting average (89 for 201) and set records for hits (89), doubles (27), runs batted in (72) and total bases (147).
"[Brown] just had an unbelievable year for us," said Brown's coach at Linfield College, Scott Brosius. "He was one of our captains and really did kind of everything for us, which was reflected with the first-team All-American honor."
Brosius knows a little something about what it takes to be successful in baseball. Being a former All-Star, Gold Glove winner, three-time World Series champion and World Series Most Valuable Player in 1998, he has been able to tell Brown what to expect in the minor and major leagues.
When Brosius first got to the minor leagues, he told Brown it was a bit of a culture shock. There are guys from all over with inflated egos who are only looking out for their numbers.
"It's going to be a little different being paid to play baseball when everyone around you is concerned about making themselves look good, Brown said. "It's not really a team atmosphere."
When it comes to getting noticed, Brosius said that will come through Brown's bat. The coach said Brown has all the physical tools, work ethic and defensive skills needed to make the next level, but will need continue the kind of success he experienced his senior year with the Wildcats if he wants to continue to move up.
Brown's upside is tremendous because of his versatility, Brosius said. He can play almost any position, and even if he struggles on offense, his arm strength could give him a shot on the mound.
Although professional baseball is going to be a foreign, more competitive environment, Brown believes he's ready.
During the summer of 2009, Brown played semi-pro baseball for the Clarinda A's of Iowa, and led the team to the National Baseball Congress World Series. The summer served as an introduction to the professional baseball experience. It was a wood-bat league where the team played 70 games in 80 days.
"The biggest thing for any player is just getting an opportunity," Brosius said. "It's so hard to get a chance that you don't care what round you go in as long as you get an opportunity, and Kelson has that."
Even though Brown was picked late in the draft, he takes comfort in the fact that many players selected late have gone on to thrive in the major leagues. Players like Raul Ibanez, Mark Buehrle, Orlando Hudson and Brad Ausmus have all been picked later than the 36th round — and as late as the 48th — and have gone on to have successful careers.
"I'm going to take it step by step, one day at a time," Brown said. "I've learned that if you get ahead of yourself you don't perform best in the moment."