Athlete of the week: Jim Brown, Elk River, baseball: Veteran presence

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

In his youth, Jim Brown helped St. Cloud teams capture a pair of state baseball championships. Now a 44-year-old insurance agent in Elk River, he’s back on the ball diamonds with teammates just slightly older than those in his glory years.

He’s been a plus factor for the Elk River Pioneers. In his second year back in town ball, the lefty batted .310 in 15 games (11-for-35) with seven RBI, and had a 2-4 record, throwing 44 innings, second-most on the team.

Jim Brown won two state championships as a teen in St. Cloud. Now 44, he hit .310 for the Pioneers this summer and notched two wins and a save on the mounds. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

He also provided a dose of veteran presence and served as pitching coach as the Pioneers improved to 10-15, up from 4-19 last year.

“I thought I might be too old, but I’m glad I did it. This is a nice group of kids to play with,” said Brown, who was invited to join by manager Ken Ott.

At 5-11 and 190 pounds, Brown is trim for a middle-aged guy, still flat in the tummy. He’s never done anything in particular for fitness, but might want to start soon.

“My arm’s good, but I’ve got to work on my legs, if I come back next year,” said Brown, who pitched the final game with a torn meniscus in his right knee, losing to  St. Michael. “This could be a motivator. I’d still rather play baseball than golf or anything else.”

Brown was a key player in several games late  in the season. He pitched 9 2/3 innings in a  sweep of Hamel (3-1 and 5-3), allowing just three runs and no walks, in 97-degree heat, earning a save and a win. He went 3-for-4 with two RBI in  10-6 win over Albertville. In playoffs, Brown threw 4 2/3 shutout innings and drove home the game winner with a sac fly to beat Rogers 10-9. He had another good outing in a 7-6 loss to powerful Coon Rapids, leading 4-2 after six. He went 3-for-4 with two runs in a 9-2 win over Albertville.

The father of three has coached his son Jordan’s traveling team for five years.  Ott was watching a couple of years back when he met Brown.

“He’s not a young guy, but he’s in good shape, and he pitches well and hits well,” said Ott. “He has other obligations, and can’t be at all the games, but he’s a good guy to have around. I made him my pitching coach, too.”

Brown’s career almost ended in sixth grade due to a tumor in his left (throwing) arm. His family was told amputation was one of the possible outcomes. Radiation at Mayo Clinic  resolved the issue although the tumor impeded growth of  his left  arm. “It took four years to come back to baseball,” said Brown. “I am thankful and lucky to be playing.”

Brown gave up football and hockey and switched from baseball to tennis, playing No. 1 doubles for Apollo two years. At age 15 he found he could throw again, and returned to his first love, with very exciting results. Brown helped Apollo win the 1985 state Class AA title his senior year as a pitcher — he was 3-0 at state — first baseman and outfielder. The same group took the 1986 Legion state crown as the Waite Park Silver Stars.

Brown played three years of town ball, then slow-pitch for 17 years and picked up two more state titles, in the over-35 division. At 38 he returned to hardball  in an over-35 league for Monticello and St. Michael, then found the Pioneers.

THE BROWN SCORECARD

Jim Brown

Personal file – Age: 44 … Family: wife, Beth; sons, Jordan, 15, and Cullen, 7; daughter, Maria, 13 … Sport: baseball … Occupation: commercial insurance (Foster, Carlson & White) … Hometown: St. Cloud

Favorite stuff — TV shows: MLB Network … Movies: “Moneyball” and “Walk the Line” … Teams: Twins, Viking … Music: Gear Daddies, Toby Keith, Green Day … Athletes: Fred Lynn, Wayne Gretzky, Walter Payton, Neal Broten, Michael Jordan … Food: Buffalo Wild Wings, any seafood or steak … Kickbacks: boating, night fishing at Leech Lake, campfires with friends and family … Place he’d like to visit: Alaska

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