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Brenham, The Baseball Capital of Texas
Sunday, March 21, 2010
BASEBALL IN THE HEART OF TEXAS
About halfway between the unbelievably spread out and enormous city of Houston and the bustling state capital of Austin lies the quiet town of Brenham, home to about 28,000 people, the Blue Bell ice cream factory and the county seat of Washington County.
In the rolling hills around Brenham are some of the most historic ranches in the state of Texas, along with the origin of much of the state’s rich heritage and history.
Needless to say, there are also far more cattle than there are people, although the land used to be covered with cotton plantations before the soil gave out and the cattle and ranchers moved in.
Washington County was the capital of the Republic of Texas back in the 1840’s. The vote among the state’s leaders to secede from Mexico in 1839 happened just down the road from where I’m writing this piece. The vote to secede from the Union in 1861 was taken on the very ranch that has hosted me for the past five days, with Sam Houston casting only one of two negative votes.
You know that the people of Brenham are well aware of their heritage when you pull into Fireman’s Park, the home of the Brenham High School Cubs (I have no idea how they chose the name “Cubs” for a school out here, forgot to ask). The big sign over the clubhouse and concession stand reads in big letters “Welcome to Brenham Baseball Country, The Baseball Capital of Texas.”
The sign also lists just some of baseball team’s accomplishments over the past 60 or so years, except that they’ve run out of space. Playing in the 4-A classification, the second largest in Texas, Brenham has won 25 consecutive district titles and six state championships. The town’s baseball fans, who seem to be everywhere we went in town, are a bit nervous though. They’ve been to the state finals five times since they won their last state title in 1988, including last year when they lost to Texarkana HS and their star OF/LHP, Yankees first round draft pick Slade Heathcott. They think that this year’s team has maybe the best chance to go all the way in many years, thus the increased burden of expectations.
(For more background on Brenham Baseball, check out this website: http://brenhamcub.tripod.com/)
A total of 26 Brenham Cubs have played professional baseball since 1967, the most well known being former Milwaukee Brewers 1B and Houston Astros Manager Cecil Cooper. However, the most famous player from the high school, at least at that time, never played professionally. He’s the answer to what is a great trivia question for fans and followers of top level high school baseball.
Who was the last high school baseball player before Bryce Harper (aka “The Chosen One”) to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated?
The answer to that would be Brenham High School RHP Jon Peters (Class of 1989).
The entire story, complete with cover picture, is at this link (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1068357/1/index.htm) and is very much worth the read.
To make a long story short, Peters broke the national record for most consecutive victories by a high school pitcher, winning the first 51 straight decisions of his career. He later lost in the state playoffs, costing Brenham a chance at a fourth straight state title, but the story of the small town pitcher was a national sensation.
I saw Peters pitch for Brenham early in the 1989 season while scouting with the Astros. He was a 6-2, 190 lb right hander with a deceptive delivery and a fastball in the mid to upper 80’s that he could spot with precision. Peters’ curveball and change up were solid pitches as well but there really wasn’t ever a point where he was a pro prospect. He eventually signed with Texas A&M but blew out his elbow early in his college career. I was told that he still lives and works in Brenham and man’s the ticket booth before games on occasion.
I had the opportunity to go by Fireman’s Park at 3:30 earlier in the week before a 7 pm game to watch batting practice and infield before hustling off to another game. I’ve been to Fireman’s Park probably 20 times over the years, including last June when it was one of the fields, along with nearby Blinn JC, used for the Perfect Game Sunshine South Showcase.
Two things left immediate impressions with me.
The first was the sight driving into the parking lot. Lined up on the far side away from the field and potential foul ball damage were 14 pickup trucks. These were the player’s vehicles. 14 pickup trucks and not a single regular car among them. This is Brenham, Texas after all, the middle of ranch country. Any self respecting young man is not going to be seen driving an old hand me down Buick around town.
The second was the precision that coach Jim Long’s (15 years as the Brenham head coach) team worked out over three hours before game time, with exactly two people in the stands watching. Every player had the exact same uniform on, shirts tucked tightly into baseball pants, socks all worn old style with pants at the exact same level just below the knee, hats worn straight with the same bend in the bill. A Marine master sergeant couldn’t have found fault in these uniforms. It was flat impressive. The players went through two hours of various multi-station drills, including an infield routine that brought back memories of the elaborate Ron Polk choreographed workouts at Mississippi State years ago.
You could see the pride that was inherent in the program and the tradition of the Brenham Cubs.