Behind the beard, below the often narrowed, serious gaze lurks the smile of a fan, one which readily flashes every time Geoff Brown sets foot on a ballfield.
A lifelong player and veteran Metro League coach, the new main man behind the Bainbridge High School program is hoping to see some similar smiles springing up on the faces of island players and audiences alike soon, as the Spartans get set to retake the field.
“I’m very excited about it,” said Brown, formerly the head coach at Ingraham High.
“Coaching against these guys the last couple of years, I’ve seen a lot of talent over here. So being over here now and actually seeing the talent during practice, we got a lot of things that can really go our way if we just work hard.”
Brown took over as head coach this year from the departing duo Doug McCombs and Bill Ackerley, who lasted just two tumultuous seasons after replacing Simon Pollack, who departed in July 2016. Pollack himself had only just taken over the role the year before from David Smart, who had held the position since 2010.
Brown seems to be just the man to put those uncertain times in the past, however, boasting a resume that includes on-and off-field experience at just about every level of the game — from after school to major league.
A native Northwesterner, Brown grew up playing with the Seattle Stars and at Jackson High School, where he was part of a state championship team. He then played for four years at the University of Washington before spending the next five playing with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
He’s a longtime coach with City Baseball as well — working especially in the “development process,” assisting players in pursuing college recruitment — and leading the 18U Showcase Team.
“I started [with City Baseball] about six years ago now, and since then I’ve been a part of about 30 college commits. And I think 10 of them been Division 1 commits,” Brown said.
Despite all the years, wins and losses and changes in responsibility, for him, Brown said the game has lost none of its appeal.
“Baseball, ever since I was like 3-, 4-, 5-years-old, there was something about it,” Brown said. “I grew up with the Mariners when they good, with Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar [Martinez] and Randy Johnson — the good years of the Mariners! I just loved watching Ken Griffey Jr.; that was always my favorite player, being a left-handed hitter, left-handed thrower. I played center field when I wasn’t pitching.
“Once I hit that age of understanding what baseball was on TV, watching Ken Griffey Jr. when I was 5-years-old, I was right there with Joey Cora crying when we lost in the playoffs,” he recalled. “From then on it was my dream to play in the big leagues and there was nothing [else] for me; that was all I wanted and that’s all I ever went after.”
Brown said the satisfaction of baseball, more so than other sports, is that it requires dynamic engagement: players are all both offensive and defensive, standing alone and playing as part of the team.
“It really teaches you discipline,” he said. “It teaches you how to control your emotions, because it is a game of failure. It really tests you in all aspects, mentally and physically.”
Thus far, this year’s crop of Spartans have been reportedly coming through in both aspects.
“They’re all very good players,” Brown said. “Some of them are Division 1 recruits, some of them have already committed. So it’s a good mixture of older guys and younger guys. There’s a lot of energy.
“We’re senior-heavy on the mound,” he added, “with the exception of having two or three young underclassmen that are really good. They’ll probably see more of a relief role … but I would say the majority of our field — infield, outfield — is underclassmen.”
Leading the team on the field are a trio of co-captains: Liam Hatakenaka, AJ Staff and Jonathan Kussi.
Quickly, in the very first practices of the season, Brown said the squad displayed certain strengths.
“I would say the things I’ve seen right off the bat that we’re doing really well is our pitching,” the coach said. “We’re pounding the strike zone.
“We’re swinging the bats very well,” he added. “I would say that probably the middle part of our lineup is all juniors and those guys have really taken that next step. Just watching them swing the bats around, they’re driving the ball, line drives everywhere.”
Defensively, the Spartans are perhaps better prepped than most, Brown said, just because of the natural conditions they practice under: one of the only non-turf fields in the league.
“If we can field the ball here, we can field it anywhere,” he said.
The Spartan season begins at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 9 at home against Gig Harbor, and they will play again at home at 4 p.m. Friday, March 15 against Mercer Island.