He's qualified because: Named team Most Valuable Player for the Bears, who went 30-2, won the Central Section Division I title and finished top-ranked in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and nationally by ESPN RISE. He led the team in virtually every major offensive category, including a .430 average and 40 RBIs, and he caught 224 of the team's 226 innings for a staff that compiled a 1.73 ERA.
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Buchanan High's baseball team did everything but go unbeaten – Tri-River Athletic Conference champion, Central Section Division I title, 30-2 record and No. 1 rankings in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and in the nation by ESPN RISE.
Jeff Brown was named the Bears' team Most Valuable Player by coach Tom Donald and his staff.
Consequently, the choice for The Bee's Player of the Year follows suit.
Best player from the best team.
"Well," the senior catcher says, "it feels good, but I know any of my teammates could have been MVP. We're all pretty much MVPs in one way or another. Coach just gave the title to me."
True, Buchanan had no shortage of valuable performances while not only nearly achieving perfection but against a formidable schedule as well.
Bears' opponents went 280-174 excluding games played against Buchanan. The opponents included four teams ranked in the state at some point and six 20-game winners. And the Bears went 14-1 against five TRAC teams that were 59-12 in nonleague play.
Buchanan plowed through with the help of three Bee All-Stars with POY credentials – pitcher/shortstop Seth Moranda, pitcher Dominic Topoozian and second baseman Shota Runge.
And then there was right fielder Christian Parra, the consensus "heart of the team," say players and coaches.
But Donald distinguishes Brown: "If there was one guy we could ill afford to lose, that would be Jeff. He was essential, the cornerstone to our success, no doubt."
It was a package deal, and it mattered none whatsoever that he stood 5 feet, 9 inches and weighed 170 pounds – small for a catcher.
The No. 3 hitter led the team in average (.430), hits (43), RBIs (40), on-base percentage (.529) and slugging percentage (.720), and had nine doubles, a triple and six home runs.
That included a second-inning grand slam that thrust Buchanan into control in a 9-2 quarterfinal win over Bullard. He would finish 6 for 11 with five runs and five RBIs in the playoffs.
On defense, he caught all but two of the team's 226 innings for a staff that registered a 1.73 ERA. He had only four passed balls.
"It's easy to talk about Jeff swinging the bat," Donald says, "but he also handled the pitching staff and threw guys out. We had to have him to compete at level we needed to."
Brown, who will play next for Fresno City College, has long been a high achiever in the Buchanan area.
For example, as a 12-year-old while playing with Moranda, Parra and this season's standout center fielder, Austin Kemp, Brown was an All-Western Regional catcher for an all-star team that won the state and missed by one run of advancing to the Cal Ripken World Series.
But something went a bit askew for the first time last year in Brown's junior season.
While he closed the year as a regular starter for a team that went 25-5 and also won the D-I title, he finished with a .228 average while batting eighth in the lineup.
"I knew I was better than that," he says.
Donald saw a change in the offseason.
"He was always a mature, level-headed kid, but something clicked," the coach says. "He catching was never in question, but he became diligent in the batting cages ironing out that swing."
For Brown, who compiled a 3.7 GPA, performing at a high level extends far beyond the baseball field.
He's been a Special Olympics volunteer for years. And there, too, he's been a big hit.
"Jeff treats our athletes with respect, kindness and genuine warmth of heart," says David Kawakami, a Special Olympics director in Fresno County. "He has taken on this challenge of supporting athletes with disabilities and allowed them to compete and succeed as athletes in their own right."