Humble Brownell Keeps Adding to Trophy Case
John Brownell has just about done it all in a Ducks uniform. He has broken the franchise’s all-time records for wins, strikeouts, innings pitched and games started. He has earned Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year honors. He was named the Championship Series’ Most Valuable Player in 2013 after helping the Flock win back-to-back titles. Yet despite all the accolades that have come his way, the right-handed starter refuses to think about his place as the greatest pitcher in team history.
“I don’t really look at the personal achievements,” he stated via telephone on Tuesday. “My goal is just to try and get better every year and try to do the best I can every day I get the ball for the team. I’m just trying to win championships. The personal stuff is great, but I don’t really think about that at all. What’s happened is behind me, and I just keep pressing forward to the next day and the next season.”
The 33-year-old will begin his sixth season at his “home away from home” in 2017. Since arriving in September of 2011, Brownell has fallen in love with Long Island and Ducks fans have reciprocated. The environment has enabled him to develop a comfort zone and achieve success, and Long Islanders have fed off of his consistency on the mound and ability to step up when it matters the most. It has become a match made in heaven.
“It’s like a second home to me with the way the organization and fans have treated me over the years,” Brownell noted. “The fans are there to support, day in and day out, and the team takes care of the players. It just seems like they are very invested in the team. I couldn’t be happier to be back with the Ducks. I just love it there and am thankful for the opportunity.”
If Long Island has become Brownell’s second home, Criollos de Caguas in Puerto Rico would be home number three for the Omaha, Nebraska resident. He has played for the team during the winter in three of the past four years, including this offseason, and has continued to find success down there. In 24 starts with Caguas, the righty has compiled an 8-8 record with a 2.77 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 120 and one-third innings of work. While nothing is ever guaranteed for Brownell following the Atlantic League season, he feels as though he has found somewhat of a nook in Puerto Rico.
“It’s similar as far as how the organization treats the players,” he explained. “Alex Cora has been the general manager every year that I’ve been there, and he makes you feel comfortable and welcome the same way that Mike Pfaff and everybody with the Ducks do. I love it there because they make it feel like you’re at home and help take care of you if you’re in need of something, not just on the field but away from it as well.”
After putting together another strong season with the Ducks in 2016, Brownell headed south for the winter looking for more of the same with Criollos de Caguas. He started seven games for them during the regular season and posted a miniscule 2.12 ERA. Despite his success, the team struggled to get the same results and finished the year at 19-21, third among the league’s five teams and nine games behind leaders Cangrejeros de Santurce.
When the playoffs began, it appeared as though the trend would continue. Caguas fell behind two games to none against Indios de Mayaguez, who had finished the year seven games better than them at 26-14. Staring at a potential 3-0 deficit in the best-of-seven series, Caguas turned to a proven postseason performer in Brownell to start a critical Game Three.
“In a seven-game series, when you’re down 2-0, Game Three is essentially a must-win,” Brownell acknowledged. “If you go down 3-0, you’re probably not coming back to win that series. Just being in situations like that throughout my career kind of gives you confidence to recall on those times. You can say, ‘Alright, you’ve been here before. It’s nothing different. Just go out there and do your job like every other day. Give the team a chance to win the game and hopefully hand the ball to the bullpen with a lead.’”
Sure enough, he took the mound and tossed five and two-thirds innings of two-run ball and left the game with his team in front 5-2. The bullpen would preserve the lead from there, giving Caguas a 5-4 win that would turn their postseason around. The team would go on to win each of the next three games, all in one-run fashion, to earn a place in the finals.
Caguas would face Santurce to determine the Puerto Rican champion, and sure enough, the series would feature a pair of former teammates battling to win the title. Across the diamond from Brownell was Darin Downs, Long Island’s number two starter to begin the 2015 playoffs and 2016 season behind the right-hander. It gave the two a chance to fiercely compete against one another on the field but also a chance to reconnect and cheer each other on as friends.
“Darin and I got together a couple of times during that series and got some coffee in the morning,” Brownell reminisced. “There was definitely a little trash talk there. We were just happy for each other though that we were able to be a part of that and compete for a championship, even though we were on opposite teams. Darin’s a good friend. Of course I wanted my team to win, but if his team had won, I would have been happy for him.”
The series began in see-saw fashion, but Downs seemed to have the upper hand early on. The southpaw started Game Two, a Santurce victory, despite him lasting just three and two-thirds innings. Brownell turned in a quality start in Game Four with six and one-third innings of three-run ball, but Santurce won again. Ultimately, Brownell and Caguas found themselves trailing three games to two in the best-of-nine series and on the brink of elimination. However, they stormed back with a 12-1 victory in Game Five, handing Downs the loss in a game that would change the series for good. Brownell started Game Six and pitched three innings of one-run ball before the bullpen tossed six scoreless frames to earn a 4-1 win and the edge in the series. Three days later, Caguas won the championship in a 12-inning thriller.
“I feel like it was similar to the 2013 Ducks championship because we were an underdog going into those playoffs,” Brownell claimed. “I don’t think many teams in the league that year thought we were going to win it. [This year,] we were one of the lower seeds getting into the playoffs and everybody was thinking Santurce or Mayaguez was going to win it. We were down 2-0 against Mayaguez and came back to win that series in six games, which I think shocked the league down there. Santurce had, by far, the best record during the regular season. We were down in that series and came back to win the final three games to take that series. I think that shocked the league again.”
Caguas would face adversity yet again when they took part in the Caribbean Series, hosted by Mexico. Over the first three days of the tournament, Puerto Rico lost round robin games to Mexico, Venezuela and Cuba. Without a victory over the Dominican Republic on the tournament’s fourth day, their season would be over. To win the entire series, Puerto Rico would need to win three straight games, much like the Ducks had to do against Somerset in the 2016 Liberty Division Championship Series. Brownell was handed the ball in a must-win game, and he would use this past year’s experience as fuel.
“It definitely helped as far as my confidence and taking the mound in those situations,” he affirmed. “I had a more recent experience to call upon to give me confidence going into those games. You’ve just got to focus a little bit more and press in a little bit harder to get the job done.”
Brownell was spotted an early 3-0 lead, and he began the night with four scoreless innings on the mound. He ran into trouble in the fifth though, surrendering a two-out, two-run single to close the gap to one. However, Puerto Rico’s bullpen avoided further trouble and the offense erupted for seven runs over the final four innings to clinch a spot in the semifinals. They would go on to avenge their earlier loss in the tournament with a 9-6 triumph over Venezuela to reach the Caribbean championship. Finally, Puerto Rico blanked the host country, 1-0, in a 10-inning pitcher’s duel to claim the title.
While Brownell certainly was a big factor in helping Caguas become not only the best in Puerto Rico but the best in all of the Caribbean, he was not alone. The team’s chemistry was built on having many native Puerto Ricans playing together as well as several Ducks and Atlantic League alumni playing together. Among Brownell’s teammates were former Ducks Ruben Gotay, Randy Ruiz, Ricardo Gomez and Andrew Barbosa. In addition, the veteran was joined on the roster by former rivals in David Vidal, Will Oliver and Jose De La Torre of the Somerset Patriots. Having so many familiar faces in the clubhouse was a major key to success for both Brownell and the team as a whole.
“It’s great whenever you go to a new setting for the season and you have guys that you played with,” he stated. “It’s good to see guys from the past, catch up with them and get back on the field competing with those guys. It’s also a lot of fun to play with guys that you competed against during the summer. It’s good to see how they go about their business and play the game because you don’t really see the whole dynamic of their personality and competitive drive when you’re on the opposite team.”
He went on to say, “It definitely helps when there are guys that know each other. It builds that chemistry in the clubhouse and there’s comfort to it.”
Now that the winter season is over, Brownell is focusing on what he believes is one of the most important aspects of his daily life: rest. He has logged a lot of miles over the past four seasons especially between full Atlantic League seasons and winter ball down south. Despite the workload, he has assured all who ask that fatigue has never been an issue. The reason for that has been his reliance on giving his body as much of a break as possible when not at the ballpark.
“Rest is very important,” Brownell asserted. “I’m a big believer in rest, getting to bed as soon as you can and not overworking yourself both physically and mentally. When you leave the field, you’ve got to leave whatever happened at the field that day behind and just give your mind a mental break.”
He added, “I’ve felt good. You have a little bit of time in between the seasons and then after the winter season before you report for the summer. I still get some throwing in, but I don’t overwork myself because you’re going to get plenty of work in while you’re in-season.”
With the 2017 season now just over a month away, Brownell is eager to head back to Long Island and begin a quest to add yet another trophy to his resume. With several key returners already signed, he knows many other teammates will share in his desire to achieve what they narrowly missed out on a year ago.
“Having a good core of guys returning from last year’s team,” he said, “I’m sure we all feel like we have a little unfinished business as far as bringing that championship back to Long Island.”
How he is defined on the baseball diamond is irrelevant to Brownell. The only thing that matters to him: winning the last game of the season.
Posted on March 8, 2017, in Player Signings and tagged 2017, Atlantic League, Cangrejeros de Santurce, Criollos de Caguas, Darin Downs, John Brownell, Long Island, Long Island Ducks, Puerto Rico. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.