When Saxony Lutheran senior pitcher Eli Brown walked out onto the field for his first t-ball practice, he said “this is the best day of my life.”
It’s a true story, his mother can vouch for it.
Brown has had plenty of his “best days” since then on the baseball diamond and will continue to have them in the future. Brown, who had been verbally committed to play baseball at Lindenwood University since last spring, finally made it official on Thursday when he signed his national letter of intent.
“I’ve been chasing this dream since I was young and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” Brown said. “To make it official is kind of surreal, when I think about it.”
Brown has worked with the current Lindenwood pitching coach in the past as he wound his way through the summers on his traveling teams and built a relationship that would eventually lead him to becoming a Lion.
“I went to a camp and the coach liked me and asked if I could come up for a visit,” Brown said. “As soon as I visited, you can tell they have a winning atmosphere. The campus is beautiful and the field is beautiful. I’m also excited to continue my academic career there and it just felt like home.”
Along with finding a home at Lindenwood, Brown said he feels most “at home” on the mound when playing.
“I knew that at a young age that I was destined to be a PO [pitcher only]. I still love playing the field and hitting,” Brown said. “I really didn’t have that opportunity my sophomore year with the state run. I was hit for a lot, but it’s been fun playing the field and hitting more this year. However, pitching is still my favorite. The mound is one place I can walk out and feel comfortable. I feel like I’m in command of the game and can dictate where the game is headed.“
Brown has certainly excelled on the mound the past two seasons. Brown asserted himself as the bonafide ace of the staff in 2019 as a sophomore going 7-2 with a 1.64 ERA and compiled 63 strikeouts as the Crusaders finished the season 23-4 and third in the Class 3 state tournament. He was also named an all-state honorable mention that season.
“That year I was not going in with the mindset [of being the ace]. “Brown said. “Things fell into place and I was lucky to have a great defense behind me and [catcher] Ethan [Koenig] and I had a great relationship and we knew what we wanted to do each game and with each batter. However, I wouldn’t have been able to do all that stuff without a great team and an offense to back me up.”
The COVID-19 pandemic spoiled Saxony’s 2020 season and Brown’s junior campaign as the Crusaders returned many key pieces and had a chance to make another final four run. However, Brown did not let that stop him from getting better, as he continually worked on getting stronger and fixing some of his pitching mechanics.
“Looking back at my sophomore season I knew there were some problems that I needed to address with my mechanics,” Brown said. “I was really opening up and throwing only with my arm. I worked with Todd Pennington at Balls and Strikes and we focused on my legs. That’s really helped me. Being able to drive off my back leg and having a stiff plant foot has increased my velocity and helped me stay on line better. I don’t lose control very often and when I do it’s more up and down, not in and out.”
Oh, and he developed a slider to go along with his fastball, changeup and curveball.
“I would have had it last year if we would have played," Brown said. "so this year is the first time it’s been in action in a Saxony uniform and it’s worked out for me pretty well so far.”
That may be an understatement.
This season, Brown has started 5-0, allowing just 11 hits with 55 strikeouts and 11 walks in 28 innings. Brown has had three games this year with 10 or more strikeouts and that includes when he struck out a school record 20 batters in a 9-0 victory over Bloomfield on March 20.
However, he doesn’t really consider himself a strikeout pitcher.
“Two years ago, I was throwing a bit slower so I was pitching to contact more,” Brown said. “I guess some people may call me a strikeout pitcher. I’m just trying to get batters out and if it’s by strikeout, then it’s by strikeout.”
As of Tuesday, Brown has a perfect 0.00 ERA and allowed three unearned runs in six appearances.
“I would love to keep that the way it is,” Brown said. “We have some tough opponents coming up so I don’t expect it to stay that way. When I get on the mound I don’t think of any of that, but it’s definitely cool to look at after a game.”
Brown won’t be alone when he attends Lindenwood in the fall as he already knows some of his teammates from some of the summer teams he has been on over the years. Also Tanner King, one of his Saxony teammates, will attend Lindenwood as he signed his letter of intent Thursday.
“Tanner is one of my best friends I’ve had in my four years at Saxony,” Brown said. “To be able to play four more years with him is great. I can’t wait.”
Brown will miss countless things from his time at Saxony including the lighthearted nature that Saxony head coach Paul Sander possesses to the winning atmosphere that is currently around the Crusader program, as Saxony is 14-1 this season and ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 3.
Brown will join a program that has a similar successful approach at the Division II level as the Lions are currently 23-5 this season and were 15-1 before the 2020 campaign was suspended.
Brown is eager for the challenge at the college level and ready to get to work.
“I’m going to have to fight for every inning that I get on the mound,” Brown said. “I want to take that challenge on with everything I have. I will do whatever they need, whether that’s out of the bullpen or as a starter. I’m ready for anything.”