There is no scenario in college baseball that intimidates Max Brown.
As an active member of New Zealand’s national baseball team, the senior Kansas State center fielder has played in front of huge crowds while facing the pressure of reaching the World Baseball Classic in foreign countries. Compared to that, most college baseball games feel stress free.
“There are a lot more people at games in Taiwan,” Brown said. “It was like a soccer match over there. They had big drums and trumpets and stuff, all these crazy chants. I can’t even hear myself think out there. I am trying to yell to the other outfielders and they can’t hear me, because there are 15,000 people just going crazy around you.
“Baseball is their passion over there and in Japan, those countries. You definitely get those butterflies and your heart starts beating a little faster, especially if you get two strikes on you. They all start going, ‘AHHHHH!” and want you to swing. It is a great experience playing in front of that many people. It helps you get used to anything.”
The experience has certainly helped Brown get used to his role as a cleanup hitter for the Wildcats. After a slow start to his senior season, Brown is now scorching hot at the plate. He is hitting .293 with 25 RBIs, and his numbers continue to get better by the day. He is batting better than .350 for the past month, and he was named Big 12 player of the week on Monday after leading K-State to a pair of weekend victories over No. 3 TCU. In his last five games, Brown has gone 9 for 21 with two doubles, two triples and six RBIs.
K-State coach Brad Hill expects more of the same from Brown at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday when the Wildcats, 16-18, play host to Wichita State, 13-22.
“He has been more aggressive,” Hill said, “and just not being tentative means a lot. When you are tentative that shows a lack of confidence. When you are aggressive it shows confidence. I think he is a lot more confident right now. A swing and a miss used to bother him, but it doesn’t right now.”
His mindset changed exactly one month ago during a 10-6 victory over Missouri State in which he hit a bases-clearing triple to the wall.
“That was the hit that got me going,” Brown said. “I was struggling there at the beginning but that hit turned it around.”
Playing for New Zealand in the offseason taught him to relax and keep pushing at K-State. So he is glad his father is from the island nation, allowing him to gain dual citizenship and play for the New Zealand national baseball team despite being born in North Bend, Wash.
He likes playing internationally so much that he is open to moving to New Zealand to help build its baseball team when his American baseball career comes to an end.
Until then, his focus will remain with the Wildcats, who have won three of their last four. The 16-18 record is a disappointment. A 4-8 conference record puts them seventh in the Big 12 standings, an improvement from last a year ago, and there is a sense among players that the team is heading in the right direction.
Brown wants to keep pushing forward.
“The season has been going really well,” Brown said. “There have been a lot of games that we haven’t quite squeaked out, but I feel like we have been in every single game, even against really good teams. I don’t know what baseball god we pissed off, but for a while there we couldn’t seem to get that big hit or timely hit. Maybe playing at home changes that. It really just loosens guys up. I have all the confidence in this ball club.
“Last season was definitely not the season that we wanted or hoped for, but we have nothing to lose now. Guys are just going out there and playing with their hair on fire.”
Tigers moving up in rankings
Missouri baseball ranks No. 24 based on the NCAA’s RPI formula in the latest rankings released Monday.
The Tigers, who improved to 24-12 overall and 10-5 in the SEC by taking two of three last weekend against Tennessee, moved up eight spots from the previous week.
Missouri State, 24-8, checks in sixth after gaining two spots in the RPI rankings.
Missouri currently sits in second place in the SEC East division, a game behind Vanderbilt. The Tigers play host to Alabama for a three-game series Friday through Sunday.
| Tod Palmer, email@example.com