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Turnabout Is Fair Play : Prep baseball: After surgery, Darren Brown learned to wing it as a lefty.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

In preparation for postseason play, the L.A. Lutheran High baseball team was conducting fielding drills earlier this week when first baseman Darren Brown took a relay throw from the outfield, turned and fired a strike to the plate.

“I mean, he just gunned one home,” Coach Al Ludtke said. “I stood there, shaking my head.”

It is not particularly noteworthy that Brown, an accomplished player being scouted by the Atlanta Braves, was able to perform a simple relay throw. However, Brown made the throw left-handed, quite amazing when one considers that this is a player who was a right-handed shortstop and pitcher until this year.

Brown, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior, has played this season as a left-handed first baseman after arthroscopic surgery performed on his right arm Jan. 2 prevented him from using his natural throwing arm.

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Brown, 18, could have settled for a role as the team’s designated-hitter after doctors told him that batting right-handed would not hurt his shoulder.

The doctors were right. In 17 games, Brown has pounded Small Schools pitching for 36 hits in 50 at-bats for a .720 batting average. He has 11 doubles, four triples, three home runs, 28 runs batted in, 34 runs and 24 stolen bases.

But Brown was not content to merely hit and sit.

“It’s called wanting to play,” his mother Diane said.

It is also called impressive. Brown asked a left-handed teammate to bring an extra glove to practice early in the season and he began throwing left-handed every day.

Ludtke was stunned at how quickly Brown adapted and inserted him at first base three weeks into the season.

“The improvement has blown me away,” Ludtke said. “I just figured we would DH him. I never dreamed of him playing lefty.”

Brown said that he learned to use both feet equally well playing youth soccer and that he used his left hand occasionally while playing basketball. But he had never tried to throw a baseball left-handed in earnest until this season. He admits that it took many hours of practice and that, at first, accuracy was a problem.

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Now, however, it’s on target. Brown even pitched an inning of scoreless relief against Viewpoint.

“On a couple of occasions, I still have a bad throw,” Brown said. “But it’s pretty much natural now. I guess I pick up these things pretty fast.”

Brown’s accomplishment has left Heritage League coaches wondering what he will do next. So feared is Brown at the plate that he receives intentional walks nearly every game--including one with the bases loaded in a game against First Lutheran of Sylmar.

At bat, Brown has proven a player worthy of the school’s record books. He holds nearly every significant career and single-season record in the school’s 38-year baseball history. Until 1987, L.A. Lutheran, a private school in Mission Hills, competed in the Southern Section 1-A Division level, but Brown has spent his four years of high school competing against Small Schools competition.

Still, his achievements are difficult to ignore. This season, he has set school records in runs, hits, doubles, batting average and slugging percentage (1.280). For a career, he holds school marks in runs (86), doubles (21), triples (14) and batting average (.613).

Little wonder he draws intentional walks with the bases loaded. But his latest trick, changing throwing arms for his final season, surprised most opponents’ coaches.

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“It wasn’t as funny for me to see (him playing left-handed) as it was for the coaches in the league,” Diane Brown said. “They were, like, ‘Wait a second here. What’s going on?’ They thought they knew all he could do.”

The story actually began last fall. Brown, also the quarterback on the football team, had just finished a season of eight-man football in which he had rushed for more than 700 yards and passed right-handed for more than 800.

He felt discomfort in his right shoulder all season and the pain increased during basketball season. But the pain didn’t stop Brown from setting a tournament record for most points in a game (33) and most points in three games (90) in a Christmas tournament in La Verne.

Doctors took a look at his shoulder and said that the acromion, or part of the scapula, needed to be decompressed and shaved.

“It was pinching him every time he threw,” Diane Brown said. “The doctor said it was like pinching your finger in a door.”

Arthroscopic surgery was performed, and Brown was told to stick to batting while his shoulder healed. Like any good teen-ager, he rebelled. After all, no one said anything about him throwing with the other arm.

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Although the Braves have contacted him, Brown says that he will attend St. Mary’s College in the fall regardless of the draft. Brown, who boasts a 4.1 grade-point average (on a five-point scale) and has scored 1,110 points on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, received a partial academic scholarship to St. Mary’s and has informed coaches that he might try to play football and baseball at the Moraga school.

But for now, Brown is concentrating on the playoffs, in which he might unveil one more surprise, perhaps as soon as today’s first-round game against Rio Hondo Prep.

Brown’s doctors have declared his shoulder healed and have given him a release to throw again--with his right arm.

Brown told Ludtke, and Ludtke let Brown throw batting practice Tuesday. By all accounts, he looked good.

“I was watching him throw, and I thought ‘Holy smokes, he looks great,’ ” Ludtke said. “And I was thinking, ‘Wow. I’ve got another pitcher for the playoffs. I wasn’t even counting on this.’ ”

With Darren Brown, the lesson seems to be, you can’t rule out anything.

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