MURFREESBORO — Having the opportunity to come back to his home state to continue his Division I baseball career was a meaningful proposition for Middle Tennessee State junior Aaron Brown.
He didn’t know just how meaningful that would be until a couple of weeks into this season.
The Middle Tennessee region was turned upside down in the early morning hours of March 3 by what has since been determined as upwards of 10 tornadoes, the strongest registering a category EF-4, touching down across a four-county area. The damage was catastrophic, and 24 people tragically lost their lives.
One of the areas hit by one of the strongest tornadoes was Brown’s hometown, Mt. Juliet. Though his family and their homes made it through fine, his grandfather’s business and the school his dad has taught at for years were damaged severely. His church family also suffered a casualty.
“I got a text at 6:08 in the morning telling me my granddad’s business center was hit, my dad’s school where he teaches was almost on the ground, and my brother, who works for the fire department, was already out helping,” Brown said. “Part of my church family also had someone pass away … that was hard to take.
“You see these things happen everywhere else, but you don’t think of it happening here.”
Brown was thankful to be able to come back close to home to finish his collegiate career, and he considers himself lucky the disaster didn’t strike a year earlier, when he was at State College of Florida in Bradenton, south of Tampa.
“I thought about that a lot since Tuesday, and I’m sure if it would’ve happened last year, I would’ve been in my truck immediately coming back home,” he said. “I’m the type of person that I just want to help.”
Brown, who turned 21 Thursday, had never lived away from Middle Tennessee before heading to Florida as a sophomore. An Under-Armor Preseason All-American nominee prior to his senior year at Mt. Juliet High School, he spent his freshman season as a reliever at Vanderbilt.
His decision to transfer to State College of Florida turned into quite the learning experience.
“You learn a lot going from Division I to junior college baseball, and it takes a lot of leadership in yourself,” he said. “Junior college baseball is a little different than Division I, because you don’t have exact set plans, like in the weight room and conditioning, and have to do it all kind of by yourself.
“You have to take lot of responsibility in yourself if you want to move on from junior college. It makes you appreciate the things you have in Division I.”
Brown was a reliever in his lone season at Vanderbilt, but as a starter at State College of Florida, recorded a 9-3 record with a 3.56 ERA in 96 innings, striking out 101 batters.
In the middle of the season, he was contacted by first-year MTSU head coach Jim Toman and presented the opportunity come back home.
“(MTSU) was the first school to contact me from the state of Tennessee, and I thought that was a sign,” Brown said. “It’s basically like playing baseball in my backyard. It’s nice having family and friends be able to come see me play.”
When Brown got a chance to see some of the names he’d be joining in Murfreesboro, he recognized several, including freshman infielder Gabe Jennings from Wilson Central.
“I grew up playing with some of these guys in high school,” he said. “That bond of knowing the type of players on the team and the type of guys coming in, I wanted to be a part of that.”
Despite having so many newcomers, the team bonded from the moment they came together in the fall.
“One thing I learned at Vanderbilt was you grow together away from the field,” Brown said. “In the first week, it was like the only time we weren’t together was when we were going to sleep. I think we bonded a lot quicker than I thought we would.”
The team’s bond has made the move back home even more meaningful for Brown, who was solid as the weekly Friday starter with a 3.63 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 17.1 innings before the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Being able to lean on his teammates in tough times, particularly with what happened to his hometown, has been both inspiring and heart-warming.
Needless to say, he’s glad he answered when home was calling.
“I’m just glad to be back home,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for anything else than to be this close to family and friends.”