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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Nick's Knack

Slugger Browne Plays His Best When It's Crunch Time for Pierce

May 12, 2000|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WOODLAND HILLS — Some of Nick Browne's baseball philosophy can be found neatly written on the bill of his Pierce College cap.

"Shut up and play," is one of the canons etched in ink.

"In the warrior's code, there's no surrender," is another.

Browne lives those words every time he steps on the field. In his mind, any other conduct would be an insult to the game he has loved since first grabbing a toy bat as a toddler.

"I believe you let your play show what you can do," Browne said. "You go as hard as you can between the lines. . . . I love the game of baseball. It's the best game there is, pure and simple."

Browne, a 6-foot-3 sophomore right fielder from Palisades High, is among the best there is in the junior college ranks. Pure and simple.

He was selected this week as player of the year in the Western State Conference Southern Division after helping the Brahmas win the division title and reach the playoffs.

Pierce (24-12) meets Cerro Coso (24-14) in a best-of-three Southern California regional series today and Saturday in Ridgecrest.

That Browne received such recognition is a tribute to his overall excellence.

He batted .341, second best on the team, with a team-leading eight home runs and 46 runs batted in. There were players in the WSC with better statistics and flashier styles, but not many as reliable.

Browne repeatedly came through in the clutch, especially down the stretch, when Pierce went to the wire with Canyons and Bakersfield for the division championship.

"There's something more to this game than putting up the big numbers," Coach Bob Lofrano said.

Such as responding at crunch time. Such as playing hurt. Such as showing his teammates what those words on the bill of his cap mean.

In a must-win game at Canyons on April 29, Browne gave Pierce a 1-0 lead with a second-inning home run, starting the Brahmas on their way to a 7-1 victory that tied the teams in first place.

"The guy threw me a first-pitch fastball and I got a good piece of it," Browne said.

Two games later, in Pierce's 10-4 victory against Glendale, Browne banged out three hits and knocked in three runs. The Brahmas' cleanup hitter drove in eight runs in the final three conference games, all Pierce victories.

Canyons and Bakersfield faltered at the end and each finished two games behind the Brahmas, who won 14 of their last 16.

"Everyone just clicked together," Browne said. "This is the first team I've been on that feels like a family. . . . I'm so happy to be lucky enough to be part of this team. There's not a better group of guys."

The feeling is mutual. Many of the Brahmas hugged and patted the affable Browne on the back as they stretched in the outfield before practice on Tuesday, shortly after Lofrano told the team Browne was the division's MVP.

Browne, not easily impressed by individual accolades, quickly brushed over talk about the award and focused on the playoffs. His goal after transferring from Glendale, where he was the closer and designated hitter last season, was to play in the state championships. He is a few steps from getting there.

"I don't know my stats. It's not important to me," Browne said. "All I care about is that we win."

That's the way Browne has approached baseball all along. He considers himself a throwback to a long-gone era, passionate about the game and absorbed by it. There's never enough baseball for Browne, whose favorite TV show is--what else?--ESPN's "Baseball Tonight."

"He can quote chapter and verse on baseball pretty good," said Sam Browne, Nick's father. "Nick has always viewed the game as you win together and you lose together. He never says the cliche that there's no 'i' in 'team,' but he lives that."

For anyone else with a different idea, Browne can take off his cap and set the guy straight in a flash:

"Shut up and play."

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