Kurt Brown's latest baseball memory is not of a home run. It's of his team bus that got lost on the way to a motel in Lynchburg, Va. The driver finally figured out how to get there, only to find that he couldn't get the bus into reverse.
Brown can relate to that driver. For awhile, he found himself stuck in neutral, going nowhere on the road to major league baseball.
The former Glendora High star, tabbed as the nation's top prep baseball player in 1985, has struggled in the Chicago White Sox minor league system for three years.
But recently, Brown, a first-round draft choice, says he's found the swing that once made him the prospect that he was-- or is.
Brown plays with the Class A Peninsula, Va., White Sox, a hop, skip and daydream from the majors.
He's in his third year in Class A ball, which at first glance would seem like he's going nowhere. In his first two years in the minors, Brown, a catcher, batted .205 and .234, a far cry from his .500 average as a high school senior. This season Brown has consistently been in the .270 range, no cause for celebration but at least a good sign.
"He's making a lot of progress," says Marv Foley, Peninsula manager. "You've got to remember he's only 20 and has a lot to learn. But he's got the tools. He's big, strong and has a good arm. And he's willing to learn, which is very important."
Brown would rather be in AA or AAA ball but is not disappointed with where he is. He's been around long enough to see players jump from A to AAA, so he knows one good season could take him far.
And even though three years is a long time to spend in Class A, Brown has one thing going for him: youth.
"There are guys coming out of college that are three or four years older," Brown said. "That gives me an advantage over them, according to the White Sox."
It looked like Brown had every reason to become discouraged after his first two minor league seasons in which his statistics were less than glowing.
After being selected fifth overall in the 1985 major league free agent draft (the first high school player chosen), Brown struggled in the Gulf Coast League while adjusting to a wooden bat. Last year he played for Appleton, Wis., of the Midwest League. His batting average didn't keep pitchers awake worrying.
The White Sox are not dismayed by Brown's slow start. Their instructions to him?
" 'Take your time and don't lose your confidence,' " Brown said they told him. "They have a policy of not rushing their first-round draft choices."
Now Brown has gone back to what he used to do. Simple things, like hitting off his back foot. Like hitting home runs.
Brown has only three home runs this season, not the power he exhibited in high school. His .500 batting average was accompanied by 13 home runs and 42 runs batted in. But this season's home runs have come within the last three weeks. At 6-2 and 205, there's a chance that the power will return.
"In the future, I can see myself as a power hitter. But now I'm more of a line drive, alley-type hitter."
Foley is not as optimistic that Brown can be a power hitter in the majors but maintains that he has the potential to be a good hitter.
Although Foley admitted some disappointment over Brown's lack of punch, he said that could be attributed to use of a metal bat in high school. Along with the .270 average, Brown has 18 runs batted in and 11 doubles in 64 games. Defensively, he's developed "softer hands" behind the plate.
"It's not like I've had to learn catching all over again," Brown said. "But it's like anything else, you've got to work on it to get better."
Brown is satisfied with what he's produced. But he's also quick to point out his team's success. Peninsula finished second in the southern division of the Carolina League in the first half of the season with a record of 37-36. That came after a dismal 1-10 start. Peninsula has won its first three games in the second half. Brown knows a strong team performance also improves his possibilities of moving up in the system.
He's says he's in no hurry. At major league camp this spring, he spent his first day in awe of the big leaguers. Then came Day 2.
"Then you realize that they're not that much better than you," Brown says. "They've just worked in the system every day. They know what to do and how to correct themselves right away."
It's taken three years, but Brown believes he's on his way.