This is when Charlie Gal, the third member of Coach Paul Baranowski’s basketball team, began riffing off Brown being the “glue” of this year’s varsity for 2016-17.
“Did Garrett tell you how Coach says he thinks he’ll be the glue of the team?,” Gal said playfully. “He’s going to help us mesh.”
Brown began to protest, as his buddies ribbed him. It was all in good fun, but it could be a little embarrassing, here on campus during sixth period, with other students at nearby tables talking and working on homework.
Gal, a burly 6’5” forward, just wasn’t going to let the joke end. He placed the fingers of his hands together, interlocking, and said, “We’re going to mesh. This is Garrett in here (pointing near the webbing of his fingers), the mesh.”
“Coach says you’re going to get rebounds. Baskets (pointing to himself), baskets (pointing to Hammel, a 6’2” guard), rebounds (pointing to Brown, a 6’2” forward)”--in other words, Brown is going to be the workman on the team, while the others are going to enjoy the more glamorous fruits of scoring.
Brown, a senior playing on the varsity for the first time this season, took his teammates’ ribbing in stride. He smiled, chuckled, let Gal play out the string on his little joke--what else could he do?--the incident illustrating one of the reporter’s intended points: He’s an excellent athlete, hard-working, while also being good-natured and fun-loving. A joker who also gets the joke told on him.
Brown, 17, has been the starting catcher for Coach Gary Frank’s baseball team since he was a sophomore, playing in the CIF championship game that season against Otay Ranch, though the Vikings lost that game. So he has built up a certain amount of credibility on the La Jolla campus. He can afford to goof around a little.
Last spring, he hit .306 on a Viking squad that went three games into the postseason playoffs, while ably handling the pitching staff, which includes right-handed starter Hammel, and now with two years of experience as a starter on varsity.
“Two of our top pitchers are good friends,” says Brown, “so I’m comfortable going out to the mound to talk to them.” The veteran backstop says it’s about “team unity”, and relationships can only help the team.
Garrett is often on the instigating end of the joking with teammates--and Coach Baranowski. “In basketball, I go up to Reed (Farley, another teammate) and put my arm around him. I start giving him a massage. He isn’t totally comfortable with it.” He’s smiling. “I start messing with Reed when he’s stretching.”
What’s funny is the timing: As he is relating this to a reporter, Gal and Hammel walk up and Gal begins his routine.
Last summer, while the La Jolla High gym was closed during repairs, Baranowski held some 6 a.m. workouts up the hill at Muirlands Middle School. While the rest of the community slept, these guys were already out there on the outdoor courts, warmed up and running weaves up and down court under Baranowski’s direction.
Baranowski’s wit during the practice began early. A good-natured interchange with his senior forward soon became a running theme in the workout, a big grin on Brown’s face as the fifth-year coach made comments.
“Coach Paul is really witty,” says Brown, reminded of the occasion. “He’s a good guy. He’s a good person, besides being a good coach.”
“I try to have fun, make it enjoyable, when we’re in sports,” he says. “That way it doesn’t get boring. Sports should be fun. We’re out there playing, and I enjoy it.”
That’s certainly obvious, as the catcher has grown from a lower classman suddenly thrust into the starting catching job by Frank during a league championship season, to a confident, loquacious senior who has also blossomed as a chef on the side.
“In baseball my sophomore year, we had 14 seniors, like Noah Strohl, Luke Bucon, and others. Last year we had Stone (Scoppettuolo), Johnny (Agbulos), (Trenton) Fudge,” says Brown. He made the transition in stride, as did the team, going three games into the playoffs.
Coach Frank, comments his catcher, “is a good coach. He makes us play to high expectations.”
The lift to an individual player that comes from playing around other excellent players, Brown says, “doesn’t come because they have experience. It’s because they play the game the right way.”
On the grill, Garrett got inspiration and coaching from his dad, Eric, who is a constant presence at his and his brother Evan’s games. Evan, a sophomore at La Jolla, is 15. With his children’s athletic success, dad is continually being forced to upgrade to better camera equipment, to capture photos in the difficult lighting of night football and indoor basketball.
The elder son, whose mom is the supportive Christina and younger sister is Ella, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, has already cooked two Thanksgiving turkeys--”My dad was the main guy for those,” he says modestly. “I usually cook one or two dishes at Thanksgiving. He has prepared a fondue that contained both cheese broth and chocolate, and sushi. The secret for the Thanksgiving turkey was “brining it” with vegetable chicken broth “and some spices”.
As far as spices and seasoning, he favors salt and pepper: “It’s simple, but it works,” he asserts. “Even on a salad--it adds a nice touch.”
Brown took a year off from basketball to concentrate on baseball, and it has paid off nicely. “I went to showcases,” he reports. “The biggest one was Future College Athletes (held at Notre Dame High in Orange County). Brown University was there. UC Irvine was there. I played in some other events with my travel team (Troskey Baseball).” With the focus on one sport for the year, he developed into the capable catcher he is, starting for one of the better high school programs in the county.
But: “I really like basketball. It’s a different competitiveness than baseball. You’re always running. My friends all play. It satisfies my competitiveness.”
He is helped by a quote from Michael Jordan: “‘Through my failures, I succeed.’ In sports, failing is always there--missing a shot, striking out.”
Baseball “is so mental. Slumps are going to happen. I’m still working on that. In school or a relationship, you screw up and you still have to play a game.”
Frank has incisive comments on how Brown developed. “He received a ton of invaluable experience as sophomore on varsity,” says the coach. “We had a very talented, senior-laden team, with a lot of good leaders. Garrett paid close attention, and learned a lot from his older teammates, while earning his way into a starting catcher position on a team which set the school record for wins in a season. He showed a lot of poise and maturity on the field, and quickly earned the respect of all of his teammates.”
Frank sees his catcher’s humor as an asset: “His personality is also one of his strengths. He is able to balance his competitiveness with his fun side. He can be loud and energetic, but he can also be serious and focused; he does a good job of sensing the team's mental state, and adapting to every situation to help the team get into the best frame of mind for success.”
The head coach reveals that the coaching staff has allowed Brown to call the majority of pitches during games, something no other catcher in the program has been entrusted with over the last 20 years.
Baranowski, his basketball coach, also speaks highly of him: “Garrett is a young man of both character and integrity. He works hard, challenges others, and keeps it positive. Garrett understands his role, supports his teammates, and never complains. In short, he is the ultimate team player. Additionally, he has a sophisticated sense of humor and seems to possess a clear understanding of my expectations. He makes us a better team in every way.”