False starts leave Brown frustrated, more determined

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 24, 2002

[6/24/02] CHICAGO It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the Windy City, but it’s far from a pitcher-perfect day at Wrigley Field.

Like the nearly 39,000 fans in the stadium for this crosstown rivalry, everyone who goes to the mound has control problems and the wind is blowing out.

It’s going to be a good day for the sailors on Lake Michigan, in sight just beyond the right-field bleachers, and the souvenir hunters gathered on Waveland Avenue behind left the kind of day that could put a struggling hitter back on track. Yet the one who’s struggling the most doesn’t even get a chance. Former Vicksburg High star Roosevelt Brown gets off the bench only to congratulate teammates after they score or get a big hit.

It’s not the way Brown had envisioned his 10th year in professional baseball to begin. After three part-time seasons with the Cubs, it had looked as if the left-field job would be his this year. Then the Cubs signed Moises Alou in the offseason. After that, Brown was told he may start in center instead … but Corey Patterson won the job.

“I’ve got to be patient,” Brown said after his Chicago Cubs lost to the White Sox, 10-7, on Father’s Day. “That’s just the way it is. It’s not like I’m old.”

But the 26-year-old is a “little upset” at the way things are working out in what was supposed to be his breakout year. Still, he said he hasn’t complained about his role as a backup and an occasional pinch-hitter.

“If I say something, it won’t change anything,” he said. “I’m not in control of my fate.”

Manager Don Baylor said Brown has spoken out “at times,” but for the most part, he has handled his situation the right way. How he continues to respond or not respond could help change Brown’s rap sheet.

“The first day I got here, I showed him his report,” Baylor said. “The part about his attitude was all negative. I told him, you’re not going to survive in this game like that.'”

Brown contends that he needs to start and get more than one at-bat per game so he can get into a rhythm. That’s how he hit .346 with 22 homers and 77 RBIs in Triple-A Iowa and was Pacific Coast Player of the Year in 2001, he said. That’s also how, with the Cubs, he came up with a five-hit game against Detroit in July and a two-homer, seven-RBI game against Pittsburgh in October. He batted .370 in his final 15 games of last year and batted an Iowa-record .336 over parts of the last four seasons.

“He’s always been classified as a hitter,” Baylor said.

Baylor can sympathize with Brown. In 1970, he was minor league player of the year, yet he too had to sit the bench in Baltimore behind future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.

“I wanted to play, too,” Baylor said. “I was no different. He just has to wait his turn.”

And, like Baylor, Brown’s future with the team is uncertain.

Daryl Buford, who is an assistant to Brown’s agent, Adam Katt, said, “We want them to play him or trade him.”

Brown said he wants to stay in Chicago, where he has a condominium in Wrigleyville.

“This city is awesome,” he said. “I want to stay here, but I want to win, too.”

Baylor, on the hot seat after a 30-41 start, said he was not “trying to move” Brown before the July 31 trade deadline.

“When you get an opportunity, you have to run with it, and he hasn’t done that so far,” Baylor said.

“When someone’s batting .160, you have to try to find the right combination.”

Finding the right combination has been the trouble for the Cubs, who are 10 games out of first place in the National League Central division. Only Sammy Sosa (.312) and Patterson (.289) have respectable offensive numbers.

Everyone else is batting .261 or worse.

Brown said that players who sign for millions of dollars, like his friends Alou and Patterson, get more of a chance to perform because management wants big-money players on the field.

“I know what got me here,” said Brown, who was a 20th-round choice of the Atlanta Braves out of VHS in 1993. He points at a box of black bats on top of his locker. “That Louisville Slugger is what got me here.”

Warming the bench has done nothing to cool Brown’s confidence.

“I’m a star waiting to take off,” he said.

Still, Brown said he’d rather be back in the minors playing than collecting his nearly $300,000 annual salary for nothing.

“I wasn’t brought up that way,” he said. “I don’t want to be content to just collect a check. I want to play nine innings, every day, until I drop.”

Inactivity has hurt his batting average, he said, and, inexplicably, his non-throwing shoulder.

“Just a little tendinitis,” he explains, pointing to a purse-size ice pack on his left shoulder.

Curious teammates walk by and tease him about being interviewed. Alou does a double-take, then grins; Fred McGriff, talking on a cell phone, nudges him on his way out; even Sosa’s brother comes over to see why a reporter is spending time with a .159 hitter who didn’t play that day.

Brown just laughs at their good-natured ribbing.

“If I was starting every day, my numbers would be great,” he said. “They all know that.”

What they don’t know is that the interview is for Brown’s hometown newspaper.

Maybe he doesn’t tell them because he isn’t particularly proud of Vicksburg, or Mississippi, for that matter.

“That city and state will always be behind,” he said. “Racism still exists.”