The motel accommodations are small, but somewhat comfortable for a big man. The food is nothing like Mom’s home cooking. And doing the laundry can be an event.
And Ben Brown is the happiest he’s ever been in his life. He’s a minor league pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization living the baseball dream.
"The college option was not for me,” Brown said. “I knew I wanted to play professionally right away. The Phillies called my name and I couldn’t wait to get started. I thought it would be silly for me to wait another three years to get drafted out of a school. So when my dream was right in front of me I made the right decision.”
The 6-foot-6, 230-pound right hander is one year removed from Ward Melville High School where he dominated local hitters with his electric fastball and led the Patriots to the Suffolk League I title.
He was selected in the 30th round of MLB’s amateur draft, and has drawn raves as much for his performance as his work ethic.
“He’s acclimated quite well to the life,” said Sal Agostinelli, the international scouting director for the Phillies. “The transition for any 17-year-old from high school to pro baseball can be overwhelming. There are so many factors that dictate where a guy is going to be after the first year. But Ben has an unbelievable work ethic and is so focused on his future. We love the kid and he’s doing well.”
The rigors of professional baseball can be daunting. Early morning workouts, where he rises at 5:15 a.m. for a quick breakfast and a trip to the park for arm care treatments.
“I do tissue prep and get my body right for the day,” Brown said. “It could be in a lift day or towel drills, stretching or working in my throwing program. Some days were shagging batting practice and running. It’s all baseball 24-7 but it’s a job.”
Brown drew the attention of the Phillies front office two weeks ago when he struck out 16 batters in six innings and improved his record in Gulf Coast League to 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA with the GCL Phillies West. He’s struck out 52 in 39 innings and leads the GCL in strikeouts and ERA.
“His delivery and arm action have improved,” Agostinelli said. “He’s gotten bigger and stronger and that's a testament to his work regimen. His fastball has been as high as 94 miles per hour.”
Brown turns 19 in September and said the hardest part of transitioning into the life of a professional player was being so far from home and away from his support system.
“I'm more than a 1,000 miles away from home and my main support system,” he said. “When you’re young and you’ve never faced a real struggle or any kind of adversity you learn how to fend for yourself and make decisions. You find out a lot about yourself and who you are. And you figure out how to make adjustments.”
Brown has adjusted to the minor league grind quite well. He’s slipped into a daily routine that has helped him increase his strength and flexibility to stay healthy.
"I’m getting used to grocery shopping, doing laundry and cleaning up,” he laughed. “I was really blessed to have a mom and dad that did everything for me. But living on your own at 17 years old was a challenge. You become an adult quickly. Now I have to shop for that case of 42 waters and a bottle of mouth wash. You learn to appreciate the little things more now.”
Brown said the monotony of the minor league world can be hard for young players. So he loves to get emails and texts from family and friends. And he calls his high school coach Lou Petrucci at least three times a week.
“I love coach Lou,” Brown said. “He gave me the confidence when I was younger and he continues to inspire me as I grow older. I played three years for a man who had the fire and intensity that I need to succeed here.”
CATCHING UP WITH THE LOCALS
Bobby Honeyman, Mariners
The Stony Brook University graduate from Massapequa is having a wonderful first season for the Everett Aqua Sox, the Class A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. Honeyman is hitting .386 in the Northwest League and was recently named the league’s Player of the Week. He’s been on a tear, hitting .489 over his last 10 games with 22 hits and 11 runs scored. He was 5-for-5 against the Boise Hawks on Aug. 1. And he was part of a five home run barrage on Thursday night, including one from Robinson Cano, in his first rehab start, in a 10-6 loss to the Eugene Emeralds.
Logan O'Hoppe, Phillies
The first-year catcher from Sayville, who led St. John the Baptist High School to the NSCHSAA title in the spring, leads the first-place GCL Phillies West with a .400 average. O’Hoppe is 30-for-75 with nine extra-base hits, 15 runs scored and 11 RBI.
*stats are through Thursday's games