Brown’s bat wakes up at right time

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 16, 2001

[05/16/01] Michael Brown has spent most of his baseball career making adjustments.

First he was an infielder. Then an outfielder. Now, the former Vickburg High star finds himself in the infield again.

But the impact he has had for No. 22 Mississippi State in just his second season should keep him planted where he is.

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“I do what I can to help my team win,” said Brown, whose Bulldogs open Southeastern Conference Tournament play against South Carolina Wednesday at 5 p.m. “I can remember when I was at Chipola and we needed an outfielder. So, I moved out in the outfield for the first time in my career.

“But I think my position for the rest of my career will be at second base.”

Brown, a junior educational psychology major, entered his first year with the Bulldogs (32-21, 17-13 SEC) as a projected starter in left field.

But with a lack of stability at second base, MSU coach Pat McMahon moved Brown to that position to try to fill the void.

Now, Brown’s ready to lead the Bulldogs, a No. 4 seed, into the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.

“I feel real good about the way I am swinging the bat right now,” Brown said. “I had a bad weekend against Ole Miss, but I corrected that problem (in Monday’s practice.)”

McMahon said he knew coming into the season that Brown could play any position on the field. It was just a matter of finding a permanent home for him.

“We are so proud of Michael,” said McMahon, whose Bulldogs finished the season tied for second place in the SEC Western Division with Ole Miss. “He definitely understands what it takes to be successful in the SEC.”

The streaky hitter struggled early this season at the plate, but after working extensively with MSU assistant coach Tom Raffo, he has gotten back into the swing of things by finding the stroke that made college recruiters covet him since he was a junior at VHS.

Still, Brown had to make an adjustment to compete against SEC pitching. Brown changed his stance from the conventional elbows apart to elbows together.

“What it does is stop me from lifting up so much and to drive the ball,” he said. “I am real comfortable with it. I think I’m about to start hitting the ball real well.”

The change has shown nothing but good results for Brown. He has become one of the Bulldogs’ best hitters.

The Mayor’s Trophy game against Ole Miss in March was Brown’s breakout game. He made solid defensive plays at second, drove in a career-high four runs and tied a school record with three doubles, including an SEC record-tying two doubles during the seven-run fifth inning. MSU won the game 15-6.

“That is when I really started hitting the ball,” he said. “The thing was I started getting more at-bats and started seeing the ball more.”

Since that game, Brown has moved up from seventh, eighth and ninth in the lineup to the leadoff spot. His on-base percentage is .378.

Brown has seen an increase in his offensive production since moving there. He is fourth on the team with a .303 average. He has six doubles, one triple and two homers along with 22 RBIs on 53 hits for the season.

“Michael and Coach Raffo spent a lot of time working on his swing,” McMahon said. “He is an extremely hard worker. He has made adjustments and that comes from his days in high school and Chipola.”

Brown played every position except catcher during his stint with the Gators. But while at Chipola (Fla.) Community College, he primarily played third.

McMahon thought Brown would see plenty of time at third before he reported to the Starkville campus because of the loss of senior Travis Chapman.

But when he arrived, MSU was already established at that position. Chad Henry started the season at second base, but struggled and Brown made the move.

Brown’s move to second has put a brick wall on the right side of the Bulldogs’ defense. He has a .930 fielding percentage.

“He has moved around a lot,” McMahon said. “He’s been in left field and third base, but he has settled in as our starting second baseman and has been a big part of our success.”

After being selected in the 36th round by the San Diego Padres in the 2000 major-league draft, Brown passed up the opportunity. He said he wanted live out his dream of playing for the maroon and white.

“It is unbelievable,” he said of the atmosphere at Dudy Noble Field. “There aren’t a lot of places like ours. So everywhere else we play seems dead. We get great fan support.”

With the regular season now over, Brown is hoping to help the Bulldogs bring home their first SEC title since 1990.

“We have a pretty good chance,” he said. “Our pitchers are playing pretty good right now and it is all about us helping them out.

“They say hitting is contagious,” he added with a pause. “Well, I’m going to get it started.”