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Catcher Keeps Big League Dreams Alive : For Glendora's Kurt Brown, It's Been a Frustrating 5 Years in Minors

August 10, 1989|MITCH POLIN | Times Staff Writer

When he signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1985 as a high first-round draft choice with a reported six-figure bonus, catcher Kurt Brown of Glendora never envisioned it taking him long to reach the big leagues.

Brown, the fifth player chosen in the draft, thought it would not take more than four years of minor league baseball to reach the promised land of Comiskey Park.

But by this season, his fifth in pro baseball, the only place Brown's career appeared to be headed was in circles.

Especially since Brown is once again playing in Sarasota, Fla., where his pro career began in rookie ball as an 18-year-old with the Sarasota White Sox of the Gulf Coast League.

Only the second stop at Sarasota is a little more promising. He is playing for the Sarasota White Sox of the Florida State League--the highest of Chicago's three Class A farm teams--and even had a brief fling this year with Birmingham in the Class AA Southern League.

Even more important is that Brown is hitting.

After four years of struggling, the 6-2 and 215-pound Brown is finally coming of age as a hitter, his most glaring weakness.

With less than a month remaining in the season, Brown is enjoying his best season with a .286 batting average, two home runs and 22 RBIs in 220 at bats. He recently completed a 22-game hitting streak and batted .338 in July.

Brown batted .205 for the Sarasota rookie team in 1985; .234 for Appleton, Wis., of the Class A Midwest League in 1986; .253 for Peninsula (Norfolk, Va.) of the Class A Carolina League in 1987 and a combined .212 for South Bend, Ind., of the Midwest League and Tampa of the Florida State League in 1988.

It had been a frustrating road through the low minors for Brown, who as a senior at Glendora High turned down a football scholarship to Long Beach State in 1985 to fulfill his ambition of making the big leagues.

Brown realizes that he may have become caught up in naivete, although the dream is alive.

"When I signed I didn't know anything," he says. "I figured four years. But now I realize that was a little low. But I'm still young. I'm only 22. When you look at the number of seasons I've played I'm a veteran, but I'm still young according to my age."

Despite the slow progress, Brown is convinced that he made the right decision four years ago.

"I have no regrets and I've been to college since then," he said. "I know some guys that played college football and I think I made the right choice."

Brown, who is attending Citrus College in Glendora during the off-season, said it was a difficult decision but added that there are no guarantees attached to a college degree, either.

"I have friends who went to school and got their degrees and don't have a job," he said. "I went out into the real world and tried to make it. I'm not saying anything against them, but there's a big difference between working in the real world and going to college.

"It's a lot different going to college and playing and just having fun and going to the pros to play. You're on your own here.

"I've seen guys get left behind because they miss the bus, and it's just too bad. In college you make an error and they tell you to go run (laps). Here they fine you $25 or something. It's money out of your pocket."

Brown said the transition from high school to minor league baseball was difficult, "but I've been in it longer now so I know the ins and outs a little better."

One of the first realizations for Brown was that he wouldn't be able to swing for power as he did in high school.

"I've had to adjust my swing," he said. "When I started I was more of a pull and up-the-middle hitter. Now I'm more of a gap and alley hitter. My biggest improvement has been not getting myself out.

"The pitching is pretty good, but you have to learn to make adjustments at the plate. When a pitcher is throwing you nasty stuff, you have to learn to fight it off until you can get a hit.

"I've just realized what I want to do as a hitter. You approach it one at-bat at a time, one pitch at a time. You simplify the game."

He credits Pat Roessler, hitting instructor with the White Sox, with improving his batting form and mental approach.

"I've worked with Pat a lot and can't see myself struggling again as I did before," Brown said.

Tony Franklin, first-year manager of the Sarasota White Sox, said Brown also deserves much of the credit for his improvement.

"He's been very consistent and that's because he's a very hard worker," Franklin said.

"He's more aware of what hitting is all about. I think he has become a better hitter since the start of the year. He's learning what it takes to become a good hitter."

Make no mistake, Brown has put in the practice to become a success.

"They have you working every day from 3:30 to about 11," he said. The practice regiment usually includes hitting drills and warm-up exercises until the game at 7.

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