By STEVE KRAH
Two tunes followed Zack Brown to the mound during the 2017 baseball season.
When the 2013 Seymour High School graduate toed the rubber on the road, he would be greeted by “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown Band.
“It’s pretty funny. It was a common joke spread around,” says Brown, the 22-year-old right-hander selected in the fifth round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers after three seasons at the University of Kentucky. “I do not want anything to do with it at home.”
So what was playing as Brown made his first-inning warm-up tosses at Low Class-A Wisconsin or High Class-A Carolina?
“‘Small Town’ by John Mellencamp,” says Brown. “It has a little meaning to it. That’s why I picked it.”
Brown, who went a combined 7-5 with a 3.11 earned run average and 107 strikeouts and 36 walks in 110 innings, stayed connected to his hometown with regular texts or phone calls with his head coach at Seymour High — Jeremy Richey.
First acquainted when Brown was attending Seymour baseball camps as a middle schooler, he credits Richey for helping him with the mental side of the game.
“I’m very competitive,” says Brown, the son of Bob and Cathy and younger brother of Tyler. “When I play not to the best of my ability, it’s hard to let that go. I have to just keep working at it. One big thing with pro ball is a hitter can go out there the next night. A (starting pitcher) starter has to wait four days. You have to let go of what happened the days before and get ready for the next start.”
Richey watched most of Brown’s appearances (18 at Wisconsin and four at Carolina) on MiLB.TV and noticed a trend.
“In the games that he pitched, he often gave up all the runs in one inning,” says Richey. Though their correspondence, the coach tried to help the player work through it.
Richey saw Brown face obstacles while at Seymour at Kentucky.
“His junior year, he threw really well for us,” says Richey. “His senior year, he threw to about five different catchers and tried to strike everybody out and do more for himself. He had to battle through that.
“He threw really well as a (UK) sophomore. Then they did not score many runs for him as a junior.”
When those occasions arose, Richey would pose questions.
“What are your thoughts when that happens? Are you trying to do too much?,” says Richey. “It’s about dealing with adversity.”
Richey, who enjoys reading motivational books like Old School Grit: Times May Change, But the Rules for Success Never Do (Sports for the Soul) by Darrin Donnelly, also helps his current players through the ups and downs of the sport.
“Kids want to put themselves in position when they are successful all the time,” says Richey. “When they are not successful, they don’t know how to deal with that.
“(Donnelly says) ‘it’s not wins and losses; it’s wins and lessons.’ To me, that’s baseball.”
In his second professional season, Brown has learned more about what pitches work for him and how to take care of his body to get through the grind of a 140-game season.
“It was pretty good,” says Brown of his 2017 campaign. “I got off to a slow start with an (arm) injury. After the all-star break was probably the best string of outings in my career. I finished the season strong.”
Brown used a four-seam fastball, sinking fastball, curve ball and circle change-up against Midwest League and Carolina League batters. He added the sinker while at UK.
A Friday night starter in the tough Southeastern Conference as a sophomore and junior, Brown played for then-head coach/pitching coach Gary Henderson, who also stressed the mental game.
“He taught me to slow the game down learn how to pitch to people,” says Brown. “The majority of the time, it’s your strengths vs. the opponent’s weaknesses.”
The same has held true in pro ball.
The big difference for Brown is bouncing back quicker.
“It’s being consistent with what you do day in and day out,” says Brown. “You have to be ready to go every five days. That was a huge change for me (compared to pitching once a week in college).”
In the minors, Brown works with the strength coach to maintain what he has built in the off-season and to keep his flexibility.
“You’re getting paid to play so they want you to be healthy and able to go out and perform,” says Brown, who will attend a short instructional league session in Arizona and then come back to Seymour where he will work out and help the community’s younger players.
Brown’s baseball path began with Seymour Youth League and also included travel ball with the Indiana Bats (based in Greensburg), Edgewood Bulldogs and Indiana Redbirds (based in Columbus).
“We went to Batesville in the winter and practiced for the Bats in an old gym on Sunday nights,” says Brown. “Travel ball has taken off even more since then. It’s crazy.”
Zack Brown, a 2013 Seymour High School graduate, is now a pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. (Carolina Mudcats Photo)
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