The memories came flooding back as Domonic Brown prepared to return to the Double-A ballpark he once called home.
The former outfielder had played at FirstEnergy Stadium in 2009 and 2010 as a member of the Reading Phillies. On Friday night, he had a chance to reflect on his time in Reading as he came to coach a 13-and-under travel baseball game on the same field he helped cement his status as one of the game’s top prospects on.
“As soon as I was coming in, I could remember so many memories,” Brown said before the game. “I was talking to my wife for probably about 10 or 15 minutes driving into Reading. A lot of memories started flowing.”
One moment in particular came to mind for Brown when thinking about his tenure as a Double-A player.
For one game in 2009, Brown and his teammates were joined by an established major-league star and eventual Hall of Fame inductee. Three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martínez had signed with the Philadelphia Phillies midway through the season, but a rehab start in Reading would come before he made his way back to the majors.
Martínez made the start in front of a record crowd in Reading. Brown, then one of the top prospects in the Phillies’ system, hit a home run in that game. As he ran the bases, Brown slapped himself on the helmet in celebration, which the opposing Trenton Thunder took exception to.
“The guys thought that I pimped it. And I didn’t — I think my helmet was coming off or something, maybe,” Brown joked.
Veteran pitcher Martínez — Brown’s teammate for just one day — quickly came to the young outfielder’s defense.
“I’m running around the bases,” Brown said, “and I can see him at the top of the steps yelling like, ‘If these guys try to hit you, I got your back!’ … I’ll never forget that.”
By the time he was playing in Reading, Brown had begun to climb the prospect rankings across baseball. The big-league team was in the midst of a stretch of five straight division championships, two World Series appearances and one World Series title. Brown was expected to be the type of player that would continue that type of success. The pressure to perform was there, but Brown felt that he was able to handle it.
“The fans were tough, man,” Brown said. “The fans were extremely tough. But it prepared me for the next level. … I came from a tough family also, where expectations were always very, very high. So getting in the Phillies’ system and the way that they handled us as young bucks, I knew what I was getting myself into.”
Brown was promoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in June of 2010. By July, he made his debut in the majors.
There were several big moments in Brown’s Phillies career. He received a standing ovation before his first career at-bat, then hit a double to right field and scored a run. In 2013, he hit 12 home runs in the month of May and 27 for the whole season. He was named to his first All-Star team that year as well.
But Brown, seen by many to be the next Phillies star, did not live up to the lofty expectations. Injuries, including concussions in 2013 and 2015, and periods of poor production plagued his career. He was out of the majors by 2015, and bounced around the minors, Dominican winter leagues and Mexican leagues until last year.
Brown, now 32, has started coaching baseball since his playing career ended. Using the wisdom he picked up in professional ball and has gained since leaving, Brown helps teach kids about hitting for an organization called Athletes Academy in Norristown. He focuses less on the results on the field, but more on teaching young players the game and helping them improve.
“I’m not result based. I’m not really going off of the win or loss,” Brown said. “It’s all about what’s going on between the ears for us to get better.”
About three weeks ago, Brown received a call from former Reading teammate Mike Spidale, a coach himself, about getting a game together. It ended up taking form on Friday as the Rip It Baseballtown Charities Showcase between Brown’s Athletes Academy Canes and Spidale’s Berks County Bulls.
“We’re both giving back to the youth through baseball,” Spidale said, “which is great. And to have [Brown] on the other side — he was one of the best hitters to ever come through here — so to have him on the other side is a great experience for all.”
Spidale said that seeing his former teammate giving back through coaching was not surprising, and that Brown showed signs of being a potential coach all the way back in their time in Reading together.
“Domonic played the game the right way. He played hard. He worked extremely hard. He was a true professional. Players with those qualities usually do make good coaches,” Spidale said. “So when I heard that he was coaching and doing his thing with that, I certainly wasn’t surprised because I knew it was in his blood.”
Brown’s 13U Canes secured a 12-4 victory in his return to FirstEnergy Stadium, his first time back in Reading since an exhibition game in 2012 and his first time in a Phillies’ facility in “a couple years.”
A lot has changed for Brown since the last time he stepped foot in Reading or on a Phillies’ field — in baseball and life in general. Since taking on a new role in the game, along with the help of his past experiences, it seems that Brown has found the right path for himself.
“I’m a grown man now. I have kids and a wife. I’ve grown a lot for sure,” he said. “The biggest thing I can say is my knowledge of the baseball game definitely went up. The baseball IQ has definitely grown. The patience of world problems, also.
“But I think a lot of it has to do with being able to play and be a prospect and come through the Phillies’ system. And now, honestly, I feel like I can tackle anything in the world, and I definitely owe that to the fans of Philly.”
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