The crack of a bat, the smack of a ball whizzing into a mitt, an umpire calling balls and strikes. These are sounds we associate with baseball and summer.
But until now, these were sounds not heard at the Brown School.
This season marks the first time in school history that the Brown High School has a baseball team, featuring an extremely young squad and a coach in his first year at the helm of a high school program.
The Bears took the field for the first time on March 22, in an 18-0 defeat to Moore. Jairus Bibb recorded the team’s first hit.
This season will likely see many more performances like that. Due to the school’s location in downtown Louisville, they have no home field. And because of a lack of baseball history, many players on the squad are sophomores, freshman, and even seventh graders. But athletics director Justin Leonard said he believes this season is about laying the foundation for the future.
“It’s not about wins and losses this year, it’s about building a foundation,” Leonard said. “If the kids are getting better from the first day of practice to the last game and they’re continuing to be great people and role models in our community, you’ve done a great job coaching them on that.”
The new baseball program is two years in the making, Leonard said. A survey was distributed to the school’s students, which total around 730 from kindergarten through 12th grade, asking if they’d be interested in expanding the school’s athletics offerings.
The response was overwhelming, and at an informal meeting in May 2015, Leonard estimated 35 students showed interest in playing baseball.
“Our philosophy has kind of been, if there’s interest here, whether it’s 1 or 100 students, we want to offer that,” Leonard said.
From there, Leonard and head coach Kevin Burton, a former Logan County star who played one season with Morehead State, began to put their team together, holding one final meeting with around 26 students and beginning the process of registering the team, scheduling games and practices, and of course, ordering uniforms and hats.
Earlier in March, Burton finalized the roster at 20 players and began putting his young team through drills.
“The main hurdle was trying to figure out if we were going to have pitchers,” Burton said. “So the first couple of practices that was kind of the skill days. We had some guys that threw and I told Justin, I think we may be OK in the pitching department, but we’re really young. I think in a three to four years from now we could be really good, (but it’s mostly) seventh- and eighth-graders.”
For some players, practices are mostly about dusting off baseball skills learned as a young child.
One of the team’s three seniors, Michael Walker, said he hadn’t played baseball since he was in fourth grade. Another senior, Imran Abdur-Rahman, last played during his freshman year at Valley.
“Baseball is my first sport so I wanted to play,” Abdur-Rahman said, noting that he dropped track and field to play baseball this spring.
The Bears have a 16-game schedule this spring and practice at Beechmont Park in Louisville, a 15-minute drive from campus. Leonard credits the student’s families for helping overcome many of the obstacles the team has faced, including a lack of facilities close by.
“If it weren’t for our parents I don’t think the programs like what we’re doing now would be possible,” Leonard said.
Burton is working to build a culture from the ground up, and with such a green team this year, the coaches are more focused on the big picture as opposed to individual game results.
“I just want every kid to come in a little more advanced than they started,” Burton said when asked about the team’s goals this year. “ At the end of the year, if we can look back and say ‘when I first had him, he couldn’t hit a ball thrown underhanded to him and now he’s hitting 60-70 mph.’ That’s what we want.”