"You gotta keep it fun. You gotta keep it light."
Such is the life of Arizona Wildcats assistant baseball coach Sergio Brown. In addition to his duties of coaching first base during games, and working with the hitters and infielders during practice, Brown is the lead recruiter for Arizona's baseball program.
Brown, a 44-year-old English major from Cal State Fullerton, is in his 15th year of being an assistant coach at the Division-1 level, and his first with Arizona. He was also a member of the 1995 National Championship team at Fullerton.
Since the second Jay Johnson stepped on campus as the Wildcats' new head baseball coach, it was obvious that the focus of the program would shift to recruiting, and bringing in Brown was just part of that.
"He is an outstanding recruiter who will help us in our effort to put Arizona baseball back at the forefront of the minds of the top players across the country," Johnson said the day Brown was brought onto the staff. "He is a tremendous coach as well and had a large hand in both UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton reaching the College World Series during his time at each school. I look forward to the impact Sergio has on Arizona baseball."
You might be thinking to yourself 'an English major coaching D-1 baseball?'. But Brown actually uses his education background to his advantage when talking to recruits' parents, as we found out from 2017 pitcher Roman Phansalkar.
"He made a comparison to a couple books while we were in the car which made my mom laugh. My mom loves books, so that got her pretty good."
"I try not to be the baseball coach all about baseball," Brown explained of his personality and love for books. "I try to be a little bit cerebral because I think we get some intelligent kids here and some intelligent families with educated parents, so I don't want them to think I'm this guru baseball coach that only talks about baseball."
The landscape of baseball recruiting has changed in recent years. Unlike football, where the focus is on juniors, baseball coaches have been forced to skew younger than that, looking primarily at high school freshman. This is thanks to UCLA's John Savage. It presents a challenge for a guy like Brown, who is about 30 years older than the kids he is trying to convince to come to Tucson.
"It's hard talking to freshman," Brown admitted. "I got a kid who's a freshman and he's hard to talk to some times. I'm a 44-year-old man, it's hard to talk to a freshman in high school. It really is. There's not a lot to talk about. You talk baseball, you talk school, you ask 'em how they're doing, how's their summer."
"Sometimes when they come in for a visit you wonder if you have to get 'em milk and cookies."
It does have a side benefit though, as when recruits are on visits to Tucson, their parents, who happen to be the same age as Coach Brown, are there with them. That helps him make the sales pitch and garner their trust at the same time.
"I can really relate to them," Brown said of having those parents on campus. "Their kids are a little bit older than mine, but I joke with them. No pressure in what's happening. I let the school speak for itself, the campus speak for itself, the program speak for itself, and from there, there's so much to offer I don't have to sell it."
"You're with them for two and half, three hours on an unofficial visit, and you gotta keep it fun," he continued. "Almost trying to get to know me away from being a baseball coach, because they're going to get enough baseball from me. I want them to know who they're sending their son to and the type of person they are."
"I try to talk about my wife. I try to talk about my kids. There have been some unofficial visits with football games, so my family has been here, so my kids are around, and they'll see me joking with my wife. I'm a pretty sarcastic guy with my wife and I like to needle her. So they see my interaction with her, so I just let them try to see who I am and be pretty transparent with my personality."
"Whether it's a lower middle class poor family, or a wealthy family, I feel I have the ability to adjust my personality to them a little bit."
The new coaching staff's ability to connect with kids and their parents is what has set them apart when earning verbal commitments. Both Jacob Blas and Donta Williams (2017 commits) have put that at the top of their list when telling me about why they chose Arizona over other major programs.
It's no accident that Arizona's baseball commits are well-rounded individuals, who are easy to like as people, and are super outgoing.
"I think my biggest strength is being able to identify kids not only as ball players, but the kind of personality they have," explained Brown of his recruiting prowess. "I think I've got a real keen sense to that because I was an English major, so I read a lot of philosophy books, coming-of-age novels, stuff like that. And all these kids are trying to find themselves as people, so with that I use all the things I've read to try to really read into kids, and families, and relationships. How do (mom, dad and kid) interact with each other? Do mom and dad talk for the kid all the time? Do they let him talk? Is he well-spoken?"
"And I understand their age. They're limited. But a maturity level for a kid who's talented plays a big part in me liking him more. Mom and dad's personalities and how they react to the environment is a big deal to me."
As Arizona looks to rebound from a down period in recruiting that resulted in three-straight postseasons missed following a National Championship, Coach Brown's personality, book smarts, and ability to connect with both parents and kids will be crucial in building this program back up to a national power.