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Dee Brown makes his mark
By BRANT JAMES
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2000
Try, just try to get the Hernando High junior to talk about his individual accomplishments on the baseball field this season, or whether he entered the spring with any personal goals in mind.
The answer is always the same.
He wanted three things, he'll say: a conference title, a district title, and trip to the Florida Finals.
A season ummatched in the long history of Hernando High helped earn the first two, and earned Brown the All-Hernando/Citrus Player of the Year award.
Brown batted .515, second among Leopards to catcher Chris Cole's .520; set a single-season school record with 15 home runs, and led the the team in slugging percentage (1.00) and total bases (101). His 52 hits broke an 18-year-old school record, but was one less than Cole's 53. His 34 runs-batted-in were one less than Cole's 35.
An adept base stealer and often outstanding centerfielder, Brown was the complete package for a Hernando team that finished 21-14 and advanced to the region semifinals.
Still, he wasn't satisfied.
"I was happy with the numbers, but if I could have put them up at the right time I'd be happier," he said. "I kind of let us down at other times of the season."
Brown truly wants the best for his team. Teammates and coach Tim Sims are quick to assert that.
When Cole was benched for a game in the Dunedin Easter Tournament this year, Brown approached a fuming Sims and offered to catch. He meant it.
"Dee is just Dee," Sims said. "He's a fun-loving guy, and he puts team goals ahead of all else. That's why he's so fun to be around."
The paradoxical side of Brown is why he wants all of these things. There may not be a resident in the Brooksville zip code that does not know he is the son of late Philadelphia Eagles star Jerome Brown. Fingers have been pointed at him since he first began playing sports, indicating that was him, he was the one to watch.
Dee Brown said he understands all that, but he wants to be his own man. He excels as a linebacker and fullback for the Leopards football team, but he openly acknowledges his first love is baseball. That is what he does best. That's where his future lies. That will help him be known as Dee Brown, not Jerome's kid.
"Most people still see me as Jerome's son," Brown said. "I don't mind that, but I still want to make my own name. It makes me better to have a name like his. I just want mine to be just as big."
How big his name becomes will have a lot to do with the college and professional baseball scouts who already have begun clamoring to his baseball games.
His name is already plenty big locally. There was not a more feared clutch hitter in the Tampa Bay area this year. Brown's statistics and his demeanor were all factors in that.
Very much a fullback in his baseball uniform, he swings with vicious intensity, but chuckles as he takes signs from Sims, as if the levity of big-game situations humor him.
"It's fun to play in those types of games," Brown said. "But it's not fun when you're on the other side and get the "L' instead of the "W'. That's why I try to leave it all out there when I play."
True to form, Brown said his hitting highlight this season was a two-run, eighth-inning homer against Central that sealed the Class 3A, District 8 regular-season title for Hernando.
He calls it "the Central hit." That it tied Tyrone Woods' school record for homers (11) mattered little compared to the district title.
"He plays for the moment," Central coach Gary Buel said. "He's so relaxed and has so much confidence not to freeze up. He's the dominant player in the area, and he has as much power as I've seen around here in 15 years. You leave a ball up and he will murder it."
The scary part for area coaches is that Brown has another year left. He will be without significant lineup protection from Cole, who is bound for Florida State, but he will still have to be addressed.
Brown, an honor student, knows how much Cole's banner season meant to his. Brown hit second, ahead of Cole.
"How good Chris is helped because they had to pitch more to me," Brown said. "And if I got on they had to pitch to Chris. By me doing good, it helped Chris out. By Chris keeping his stats up, it helped me out."
A fourth year presents Sims not only with another chance to coach a gifted player, but the challenge of helping him improve.
"He does things the way to do it," Sims said. "He loves playing the game. He's a natural at it, and he works at it. It's one of those things where as a coach you're fortunate to have him, but you have to do a good job as a teacher helping give him more facets of the game."
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