With a fastball topping out at 91 miles per hour, Austin Brown’s potential was simply too enticing for Baseball Canada to overlook.
The 17-year-old Okanagan Athletics’ pitcher was named this month to Canada’s national junior team roster for the next month’s Cuba Summer Series.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Brown is among 24 of the country’s top young prospects who will travel to Toronto next week for three practises and an exhibition game at the Rogers Centre.
Then it’s off to Havana, Cuba in early July, as Canada plays a series of exhibition games against that country’s national junior team.
“It stunned me, it was a complete surprise,” Brown said of being named to the national junior team. “It’s overwhelming, a great opportunity. I still can’t believe I’m going.”
After what Brown considered a mediocre 2015 campaign with the PBL’s A’s, he has pushed his game to a new level this season with a 4-2 record, a 2.50 ERA, and 50 strikeouts in just 42 innings.
Playing on a national team has long been Brown’s goal, a dream he had all but put to rest before Baseball Canada and national junior head coach Greg Hamilton came calling this spring.
“I always wanted to do this,” said Brown, a native of Powell River who just finished up his Grade 11 year at KSS.
“Last year I didn’t really perform, my confidence was down. I didn’t believe I could go this far. But I came back after a good winter of preparing, I worked hard and it all fell into place. I’m pretty excited.”
Athletics’ program director and head coach Evan Bailey said Brown is well-deserving of the opportunity, both as a player and a person.
“He’s a great kid, he works hard and he’s well-liked,” said Bailey, who also played for Greg Hamilton with the national junior program. “There’s no doubt about his talent too, he has the best fastball in our league.
“We had hopes this would happen for him next year, but he’s ahead of schedule, his velocity took a big jump,” Bailey added. “It’s a big honour, a great opportunity for him.”
Brown, who quit three other sports to focus solely on baseball, said his decision to move to Kelowna and play for Evan Bailey and the A’s couldn’t have worked out any better.
“It’s been a great fit for me,” Brown said. “I can’t put into words how much Evan has helped me, what he’s done for me. He’s a big reason I’ve progressed like I have.”
As for his upcoming experience with Canada’s national junior team, Brown hopes it leads to bigger and better things down the road.
“This experience, it’s going to be something I haven’t done, this puts my name out there in the baseball world,” Brown said. “Maybe it will lead some opportunities, like going in the draft. Hopefully I can make the most of it.”
While in Toronto, Brown and the Canadian team will also take in two Toronto Blue Jays’ games.
In Cuba, Canada will play 10 games against the Cuban national junior team, from July 5 to 11.
The Cuba Summer Series is the first camp in the selection process to determine the 20-player roster that represent Canada at the U-18 Baseball World Cup in September 2017 in Thunder Bay, ON.