By Joe Curtis
John Brown Jr. will be coaching in familiar territory and close to home as he leads his 12U Dixie Ozone baseball team from South Carolina in the World Series at Ruston.
Brown has been coaching in the Edgefield County Dixie youth baseball organization for 13 years but can trace his start to South Franklin Franklin Dixie Youth Baseball in Gilbert.
“I didn’t realize how competitive we were in Louisiana until moving away,” Brown said. “We worked hard in Louisiana, and we worked hard in sports in Louisiana. I played football in Gilbert, and we worked hard there too.”
Brown attended and graduated from Ruston High School after he moved in with his mother. The move came after his father, John Brown Sr., started playing drums for Loretta Lynn.
“I was petrified when I first went to Ruston,” Brown remembers. “But, it was the best thing that could have happened to me because it afforded me a number of opportunities with the school offering drama, music and art. It was like a small college.”
Brown got his start in coaching at South Franklin when Mark Carroll, a friend and fellow church member, asked him to help. Brown had previously played at South Franklin and Winnsboro, and at the time was attending Northeast Louisiana University - Franklin.
Brown went on to coach in the South Franklin league for five years and served as president for two years. He remembered how hard it was to compete with the larger leagues such as Winnsboro, Ferriday and Vidalia.
But in 1991, the small league experienced success at the district level. After winning sub-district, South Franklin beat Winnsboro during the district tournament.
“After losing to Winnsboro year after year after year, we finally beat them,” Brown said, laughing. “Mike Williamson was the manager of the team that year, and I learned so much from him about coaching baseball.”
Brown brought the knowledge of having a successful league in a small market to South Carolina. Edgefield County’s population is only 27,000, according to the 2010 United States Census Bureau.
The town Brown lives in is “not as big as Winnsboro,” and his current league draws players from the entire county.
“We have about 40 kids to draw (all stars) from where other leagues we play against have 140 kids to draw from,” Brown said.
Brown has not let the small numbers deter his league from being successful. Since 2010, the Edgefield County 12U baseball team has been district champs or has traveled deep in the district tournament.
“It has taken a few years, but we have got the people to start taking this a little more serious,” Brown said. “To be successful, you have to have good community support, and the community has gotten behind us.”
The Edgefield County 12U team won their district this year in a big way, going 5-0 in the tournament and outscoring their opponents 53-0 with only three runners reaching third base, Brown said.
Dixie Youth baseball boasts many strong programs in South Carolina which is the birthplace of the organization. Going into the state tournament, Brown did have some concern.
“At the state level, South Carolina has some very strong baseball teams,” Brown said. “(South Carolina) has a lot of franchises.”
In the first game, Edgefield rolled and 10-run ruled their opponent.
The second game was a different story. Edgefield overcame a two-point late deficit to beat their opponent 10-8.
The excitement continued in the third game, as Edgefield won 2-1 in a 10-inning game. The game was the longest ever played at the South Carolina state level. Additionally, the game saw the most strikeouts recorded in a single game by one team (17 by Edgefield) and most strikeouts recorded by two teams (27).
Edgefield won the fourth game 6-5 in the bottom of the sixth inning, and beat a tough North Myrtle Beach team 6-2 in the championship game.
“My dad told me before we went to the tournament he had a good feeling (about the tournament),” Brown said. “He told me to win the tournament for all the little leagues out there and that is what I told our team.”
Brown credits the state championship to hard work and catching a few breaks.
“Everything just lined up and caught a few breaks,” Brown said. “We were very fortunate and blessed.”
At the World Series tournament in Ruston, Brown drew a team from a familiar place.
“I’m not happy with our world series bracket,” Brown admits. “We drew Louisiana our first day. Why couldn’t it been Virginia or Texas?”
Brown knows he has an uphill battle during the world series tournament, but anything can happen in the game of baseball especially to a little team with a big heart.