'Still the same guy', Cam Brown reflects on senior day

Chippewa Falls, Wisc. senior Zach Gilles, top, gets a piggyback ride from Pontiac, Ill. senior Cameron Brown, Sunday, May 2.

Cam Brown trotted to the mound, breaking stride only to skip over the white chalk of the third base line. 

It was the beginning of the end for Brown, the final first inning inside the confines of Theunissen Stadium. The fifth-year senior fired a first-pitch ball to Eastern Michigan leadoff hitter Taylor Hopkins before pumping two straight strikes. 

This day, not too long ago, wasn’t going to happen. 

On March 12, 2020, the NCAA nixed the remainder of the young baseball season due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Brown, in his final year of eligibility, thought his days manning the mound at Theunissen were over.

Some time later, he and the other Chippewas were granted an extra year of eligibility. There would be a senior day after all, and Brown would be taking the mound at Theunissen for one last ride 437 days later. 

“Man, it means everything to me to pitch here on the last chance I’ll ever have,” Brown said. “I’m just so grateful, so thankful for having a season. Not only that, just this place. Theunissen means everything to me. CMU means everything to me. Mount Pleasant means everything to me and just to have this chance means the world. So grateful.”

Back to his roots

To understand the enormity of this moment, one must know Brown’s college journey. After a rough freshman year as a reliever and a so-so sophomore campaign as a starter, Brown made his presence felt as a junior. 

He went 10-1 with a 3.20 ERA in 2019. He lost only his final start, a defeat at the hands of sixth-ranked Mississippi State - a team that featured several MLB Draft picks. 

In Mid-American Conference play, Brown was dominant. He allowed just 16 runs in 57 2/3 innings pitched in the regular season, then fired a complete-game, three-hit gem against Ball State to send his team to the finals of the conference tournament. 

Then, 2020 happened. 

Brown was knocked around every time he toed the slab. In 16 1/3 innings, he allowed 19 earned runs.

“This isn’t something that I’ve shared with a lot of people, but I think just having expectations that didn’t come from myself for the first time in my life and trying to manage that,” Brown said when asked about the root of his struggles. 

When the pandemic ended his senior season, Brown went home to Pontiac, Illinois. Looking back on the last year, he believes this made all the difference. 

“Going home was actually a really good thing for me,” Brown said. “Getting back to my roots and just having family around me and saying, ‘Hey, you’re still the same guy, you’ve still got the same stuff. Let’s just go after it.’”

One last home game

Brown admittedly didn’t have his best performance on senior day. He allowed two runs in the first inning, but settled in and worked soft contact for the final four innings of his outing. 

"Cam was coming off a couple rough starts and he got off to a rough start," said CMU coach Jordan Bischel. "I told him it kind of epitomizes the time he's spent here. Struggled last year, had to come off the ropes and bounce back. And he did it. That was just an amazing performance by Cam."

He faced one batter in the seventh inning, giving up a single through the middle to EMU’s Mike Monahan. CMU head coach Jordan Bischel, wearing a gold short-sleeve quarter-zip and gray baseball pants, began a slow walk to the mound. 

Brown’s day was done.

“(I said) just that I was proud of him,” Bischel said. “Nobody’s worked harder than he has. Maybe somebody has worked as hard, but just that I was really proud of him.”

Brown hugged his catcher, Griffin Lockwood-Powell, and each of his infielders before walking back to the dugout. He walked with his head high, peeking down only to make sure he avoided stepping on the chalk.

He earned the win, finishing with four runs allowed in six-plus innings. The victory is the 22nd of his career, tying him for eighth all-time in program history. 

One series separates him from a second straight MAC championship and NCAA Tournament berth. Brown may no longer be the dynamite ace, yet he's still the same pitcher and a major reason the Chippewas are nearing another title. 

"We have a chance to do this," Brown said. "Last year, we were sitting at home, doing nothing. So I think everybody's just really grateful that we have a chance to do this. So we're just gonna leave it all out there and whatever happens, happens."