Commentary

I believed in Domonic Brown

With a slash line of .281/.326/.560, Domonic Brown is showing any doubters he had left that his May was no fluke.

Domonic Brown in 2013.

I believed. My God, I believed.

I sat at the computer, my MLB.tv fired up for the Phillies’ home game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. July 28, 2010. Starting in right field, the newest Phillie, making his major league debut: Domonic Brown.

Remember that introduction? He drove a double into right field, bringing in a run, and the sold-out crowd at Citizens Bank Park rose with applause. He later singled and hit a sacrifice fly. Two weeks later he’d hit his first major league home run. A week after that he swatted a moonshot into the upper deck against San Francisco. I was so happy, even proud.

Wednesday, Brown stumbled over a wall at Citi Field, in the process striking his head on concrete, which would lead to a concussion. And we sighed, maybe laughed away the disappointment. Wasted opportunities, we said. He never lived up to his potential. We’ve likely reached the end of Domonic Brown as a Phillie.

And I really believed.

My belief in Brown started in 2008 on a cool March afternoon. I stood behind the bench at one of the fields at the Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, watching a group of minor league prospects take batting practice. Brown, 20, was among them, a lanky but tall kid who towered over everyone except fellow outfielder Michael Taylor. He gingerly walked into the cage, readied his swing, then whipped off a few decent shots. Line drives, mostly. The guys were trying to keep the ball down. Brown had an easy motion. Sure the swing looped a little, but the kid clearly had the tools necessary to move through the system.

I thought by 2011 Brown could reach the majors, start for the Phillies in a corner outfield position, spend 15 years in Philadelphia and provide the foundation for the next great team. Just as I thought that by 2011 Carlos Carrasco would have a 20-win season under his belt. And Lou Marson would start 130 games at catcher and hit .280. Jason Donald would likely be a versatile utility player.

None of that has materialized. Carrasco has panned out, though after a hiccup, as a solid starter for the Indians. Marson was released by Cleveland, and was even signed for a spring by the Phillies. And Donald? Despite being a pretty solid utility player in 2011 for the Indians, he’s a man without a team.

There’s a blog post out there, somewhere on the internet, in which I dream of a Mickey Morandini-managed Phillies – led by Brown, Marson, Carrasco and others – winning the 2019 World Series. That won’t happen. None of that will happen. Most of the crazy dreams we have about the Phillies, or any sports team we follow, fail to materialize. Nick Foles didn’t lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl. Evan Turner didn’t turn into a superstar. And nothing I imagined for the Phillies ever came true.

Where did it go wrong with Domonic Brown? I still may argue that the Phillies ruined his development by trading for Hunter Pence in 2011. To this day it was an unnecessary acquisition that was only bloating an already great team. Brown was sent to Lehigh Valley after the trade. In 2012, with Pence still occupying the outfield with Shane Victorino and Juan Pierre, Brown remained in Lehigh Valley.

I also may argue that tinkering so much with Brown’s swing in 2012 hampered his ability to find a consistent hitting groove.

I can argue these things but, ultimately, I’m wrong, because in May and June 2013 the light switched on, the seas parted, and for those 35 games, Domonic Brown was arguably the best baseball player on the planet. He slammed 16 home runs, smashed six doubles and two triples. It was unconscious. Every night I’d laugh, tell my friends and family members, “I knew it! You all doubted him!” Everyone always doubted Dom Brown. No more.

Even though Brown struggled in the second-half of the 2013 season, he seemed like a lock to start in the outfield for at least a dozen years at Citizens Bank Park. I ignored his struggles. I didn’t acknowledge the sapped power, the fielding weaknesses, the still-broken swing. I needed to broadcast my belief in Domonic Brown, shout it loud like a fiery Baptist minister, if only to avoid the truth about the obviously flawed ballplayer.

Baseball works well because the truth can be so far away, allowing the anticipation to bloom like a bouquet of spring flowers. It smells pleasing, pops with color and looks gorgeous. It can be bountiful by the summer. That anticipation is Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson and Jason Donald leading a future Phillies playoff contender. That anticipation is thinking today that JP Crawford, Maikel Franco and Jake Thompson will lead a championship team in 2020. That anticipation is Domonic Brown, perennial all-star and elite outfield talent.

But the truth hits hard, sometimes as the leaves fall from their branches and the flowers wither. But sometimes the truth hits with every nagging spring injury, and every looping strikeout, and every bobbled baseball, and most likely, a stumble over the wall and a crash against the concrete.

It feels poetic, that slam against the ground. Our promise, our anticipation, grew slowly and brought positive results, even despite some injuries, even despite some hurdles. As the summer of 2013 arrived, we boasted to the world that our great hope had shot from a bud to a beautiful rose. With every blast and convincing trot, Brown reflected more and more that perfect rarity: anticipation becoming reality.

But in anticipation there is blindness. We see the flowers but not the rainclouds beyond. We see the hope but not the warning signals. Now it seems obvious – Brown has a poor swing technique and possesses an inability to transform his hitting completely. He is a poor defender and isn’t fast enough to counter that weakness. He’s not a great ballplayer. He has raw talent. But he’s not a great ballplayer.

I believed in Domonic Brown. I was one of his strongest believers. But I was wrong. It didn’t work. Just another petal falling to the earth, ripped and soft from time’s cruel truth.

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