By Desirée Keegan
When Ben Brown was 2 years old he’d break windows throwing baseballs, dreaming of being drafted by a Major League Baseball team. Now, the 6-foot, 6-inch Ward Melville pitcher is living that dream. He was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round on the third and final day of the MLB Amateur Draft.
He watched and waited as the names rolled by. He wasn’t shocked, but the suspense was killing him.
“When I found out, it was such a relief,” Brown said. “I jumped up really high and I gave my mom a big hug. It’s such an incredible blessing.”
The stress of waiting was almost too much for his mother. She contemplated going to visit her father to take her mind off the stress.
“I’ve been watching this pot too long,” Jo-Anne Wilson-Brown said as she got ready to walk out the door.
Urged to stay, she decided to pull laundry off the line instead, and sat down with her iPad to watch the draft ticker. Moments later, she heard him scream.
“I heard him screaming before I even saw his name pop up,” she said, laughing. “Luckily I was still here. It was a magical, magical moment. This has been my son’s dream since the day he was born. He just wanted to play ball. He did it, and I never doubted he could.”
Brown amassed a 15-3 record over his career as a Patriot, tied for second on the school’s all-time wins list. He went 7-0 during the regular season in his sophomore year, and after a loss in the playoffs, went 3-0 to start his junior year.
He hadn’t given up a single run, but then an unexpected challenge put his resolve to the test.
Brown’s appendix burst, and he needed emergency surgery. He lost 20 pounds during his setback.
“He was very, very sick,” Wilson-Brown said. “He thought he had struggles before that, and to come out even stronger and more determined, I think that’s why we’re here today.”
During his time away from the mound, the strength Wilson-Brown saw in her son is why she said she knows he has what it takes to climb the ranks and make it to the big leagues.
“It was a magical, magical moment. This has been my son’s dream since the day he was born. He just wanted to play ball.”
“Dreams do come true,” she said. “This kid has been holding onto that dream for dear life, all of his life, and someone watching as closely as I could, as a parent — he’s a good boy with a good heart and this is so much-deserved.”
Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci saw it, too.
“It was a long road for him and he had to work hard,” he said. “Everybody roots for Ben. He’s just a good kid and he’s done a good job.”
The sight of scouts is nothing new at Ward Melville, so when they came to see Brown, he relished it.
“I think every game I pitch in is a big game, but with the scouts there it made everything intensified,” he said. “Every little mistake was a big mistake, and I had to be on my best all the time. I really liked that.”
Petrucci said he liked how it lit up the rest of the team.
“Ben’s a gamer,” he said, laughing. “Ben’s a competitor. Would he get excited when the scouts were there? Sure. But I think the people that were most excited about having the scouts there were his teammates, because they love Ben.”
The two-year captain follows in the footsteps of Ward Melville draftees Anthony Kay in 2016 and Steve Mats in 2009. He pitched in front of Matz during a training session with Petrucci in seventh grade, before Matz was called up to pitch for the New York Mets. He was 6 feet tall then.
“I don’t think I’m really that good yet, so the fact that they see something in me makes me want to work even harder.”
— Ben Brown
“They’re two really great people, and it’s really cool to be in the same ranks as Anthony Kay and Steven Matz,” Brown said. “We have a phenomenal program, and it’s no surprise guys are getting drafted. Lou has been through it all and he really guided me through this process.”
Petrucci actually first met Brown when he was in his class at Minnesauke Elementary School. After seeing him go 7-0 in his sophomore season, he knew his pitcher was on his way to a standout high school career. He watched Brown top out at 92 mph his senior season and have a strong showing in front of the Phillies brass two weeks before the draft, and he knew success was only a few picks away.
“We knew it was coming,” he said. “It was a matter of when.”
Now it’s only a matter of time before Brown is in the major leagues, the head coach said. As the youngest player picked by the Phillies — born Sept. 9, 1999 — Petrucci noted Brown could pitch three years in the minor leagues and still be a teenager.
“I think his determination and dedication to baseball is what sets him apart from the average high school pitcher,” Petrucci said. “If he signs and forgoes college, he’ll be in the big leagues in five years. No question in my mind.”
Commack’s Jesse Berardi and Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell were also selected by the Phillies this year. Morrell, the second player to win back-to-back Yasterzemski Awards — given to the best player in Suffolk County — was picked in the 35th round. Morrell trained with Brown at Infiniti Performance in Port Jefferson Station.
“Brian and I are really close,” he said. “He’s such a great kid. We actually joked about getting drafted to the same team, and we didn’t think it would happen.”
Brown has committed to play baseball at Siena College in Albany, but after being drafted, he’s more determined than ever.
“It makes me more motivated to become a better baseball player,” he said. “I don’t think I’m really that good yet, so the fact that they see something in me makes me want to work even harder.”
His mother said she wouldn’t want it any other way.
“This is his dream — How do you take that away from a kid?” Wilson-Brown said. “We couldn’t even consider. The joy in this house that day was something I’ve never experienced before. I will never forget that moment.”
Players drafted have until July 15 to sign a contract. If a player opts not to sign and attend school instead, he will be eligible to be drafted again in three years. But Petrucci is already dreaming up Matz or Kay versus Brown scenarios.
“They’re making baseball relevant—it’s nice to see Long Island baseball get the recognition it deserves,” Petrucci said. “To see these kids pursue their dreams and have their dreams unfold right before our very eyes, that’s what you want to see. We all work to see kids realize their dreams, and Ben Brown was the next in line.”