Domonic Brown was the Tribune's Baseball Player of the Year for Pasco County in 2005. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO
BY MIKE CAMUNAS Tribune correspondent
Published: July 13, 2013   |
Updated: July 14, 2013 at 11:00 AM
DADE CITY - Domonic Brown is a big-league player from a small town.
Like hundreds before him and hundreds after him, Brown, a Zephyrhills native and former Pasco High standout baseball player, hails from a town hardly on a map, one tucked away behind hills and lakes.
"That place has always shown a lot of love to me," said Brown, now 25 and the starting left fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies. "I love to go back and see people I know and go back to the high school and talk with the kids and coaches. I live in Clearwater in the offseason, so I try to get back when I can.
"Dade City did me great. Dade City treats me well."
Brown, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound left-handed hitter, has come a long way since his days of playing on baseball fields hugged by dirt roads. He is a 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star reserve, ready to play for the National League in the Midseason Classic on Tuesday night at Citi Field in New York.
Brown is batting .278 with 94 hits, 14 doubles, four triples, 23 home runs - second in the NL - and 64 RBIs. Twelve of his homers came in May, which earned him the NL Player of the Month honor.
"He was one of them kids," Brown's former Pasco baseball coach Ricky Giles said, "that he was always good enough, but good enough wasn't good enough for him. He was just a workaholic, and he guessed that being the area he came from, he had to work hard for himself.
"You could see that every time he was in the cage or taking fly balls. He always wanted to work more."
And it has paid off.
*** Brown calls Dade City home. He would never deny his roots.
However, Brown didn't graduate from Pasco High. He played football and baseball there three years before he made a hard decision.
With his parents split up, Brown opted to move to Stone Mountain, Ga., to live with his dad during his senior season. While it seemed Brown fell off the radar after the move, he said moving to the Atlanta area got the attention of more scouts, even though he planned to attend the University of Miami to play wide receiver.
"It got my name out there and it was something I had to do," Brown said. "My senior year was time spent with my dad. I'll always be thankful and appreciative of what I got in Dade City, but I had a lot of success in Atlanta."
"Everybody understood, but nobody wanted to see him go, I'll tell you that," Giles said. "I think it was a situation that he kind of knew he just wouldn't get what he wanted, which was to play pro ball. It took a lot to leave his friends, but it was his choice to make, regardless of what happened.
"Sure worked out for the best though, no?"
Before Brown was selected out of Redan High in the 20th round with the 607th pick of the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft, he held a private batting session with a Phillies representative, which wowed Marti Wolever, who was assistant to the Phillies general manager. After the draft, the Phillies offered Brown a $200,000 signing bonus, and the rest is history.
"I'm not surprised - he's got the talent," said former Pasco and Dade City Little League teammate Robbie Shields, who plays for the Single-A New York Mets affiliate in Port St. Lucie. "It's one thing to make the bigs, it's another to get there and do what he's doing. But he's stayed humble through the whole situation."
Brown was named MLB's top prospect before the 2010 season, and eventually made his major league debut July 28, 2010, against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He bounced back and forth between Triple-A and the majors the next few seasons, playing 112 games for Philadelphia in the 2011-12 seasons.
"That wasn't tough at all - I knew I was going back," Brown said. "The hardest part was my first year in rookie ball. Ninety-five (degree)-plus heat in summer time for games that don't mean anything, no one in stands, but it gets better every year and level. You have to get through it all."
Brown said he got a lot of help from former major league players in the minors, as well as a lot of help from Cubs Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who was manager of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate.
He also adds that was part of the journey to his eventual destination.
"Bus rides and small hotel rooms," Brown said. "That's all part of the fun of the minor leagues."
*** Brown used to be a pitcher.
A lanky southpaw with a blow-by-you fastball and a killer curve. When he was 14, Brown, along with Shields and other future Pasco Pirates teammates, such as Zach Maggard, who is playing for the Erie SeaWolves, a Double A-affiliate for the Detroit Tigers, would lead the Dade City Little League Seniors team to the World Series. Brown was the team's ace and heart of their lineup. He's still close friends with Shields and Maggard.
"Zach just got married and Domonic came to the wedding and it was a small reunion with us and a bunch of players," Shields said. "But if you didn't know who he was, that he's a major league player, a top prospect - whatever, he'd never say it or would change the subject if you said it. He's never been about himself and never will be."
Shields has fond memories of traveling to Bangor, Maine, with Brown and company, playing their youth away before becoming Pirates.
"We spent every day together that summer, with no worries on the Little League field," Shields said. "I'll never forget that we just had a blast."
Perhaps that's because everyone and anyone gets along with Brown.
"He's real loyal to his friends and the people around him," Giles said. "He was just that model kid, the kind of kid who can walk up and get along with anyone. I never saw him in any kind of rage or get upset with somebody."
"This year, at the (Pasco County) Fair, he came and saw me. He was in town and made it a point to come see me at the fairgrounds," said Jim Ward, who grew close to Brown as an assistant football coach. "He didn't have to do that, but that's the kind of guy he is. He knows his roots and his hometown. He loves Dade City."
As Brown prepares to play at Citi Field, he takes nothing for granted, knowing he had to "fight and crawl to do what I've done to this point." He also feels he can pave the way for future players.
"There's a lot of talented athletes in Dade City," he said. "It's a long journey and it can be hard to stay focused and positive, but it can be done. If I can do it, anyone can."
"I knew that one way or another he would be successful," Giles added.
And Brown knows he can always go home, to that small town, again.
"I'll always go back to Dade City," Brown said. "I love that place."