Last season the James Madison baseball team adopted eight-year-old Justin Brown from Haymarket, Virginia to join the team as an honorary member. Justin was diagnosed at the age of 2 years 3 months with a Craniopharyngioma brain tumor. On February 25, 2005 he had the tumor, which was the size of a lemon, removed at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C. The tumor had been pushing on his right optic nerve, which has left him legally blind in his right eye. Unfortunately, Craniopharyngioma brain tumors have a very high reoccurrence rate. Justin has needed two additional 10-hour surgeries because of regrowth. During the most recent surgery, it was determined that some of the regrowth was on his carotid artery. This is a very dangerous area, so it was left untouched. Justin's parents, Scott and Kori Brown, relive their experiences below with the 2010 Dukes through their eyes as they prepare for their second season as a part of the Dukes baseball family.
We have always looked forward to the day our sons' would show an interest in sports. Justin has hit that day like a freight train. Even given some of his limitations, he wants to play everything. One of his favorites is baseball. The boy looks like a natural when he swings. He loves it. In September of 2009, we learned that the James Madison University baseball team, coached by Spanky McFarland, was actively interested in being a part of Friends of Jaclyn, an organization that forms a relationships between NCAA sport teams and children who have pediatric brain tumors. The match-up between Justin and the JMU baseball team has been unbelievable.
The 2010 season was amazing. On November 19, 2009 Justin, his two brothers, Josh (9), Jason (3), and my wife and I first met the Dukes Baseball team at a BBQ near James Madison University. Justin seemed to fit right in with the team and he could not wait until his next visit. On February 20, 2010 we showed up at the Dukes indoor complex as Justin (nicknamed JB by Coach McFarland) was officially introduced to the Dukes Baseball program with a Letter-of-Intent signing. This included all the bells and whistles including his own official JMU jersey and the assignment of his own locker. The team manager, David Warner, who was instrumental in all of this, continued to schedule exciting meetings to build the relationship between JB and the team.
On March 17, 2010 the Dukes played their first night game at their brand new Veterans Memorial Park against the visiting University of Virginia. The game was a sellout and JB was thrilled to be able to throw out the first pitch. With Trevor Knight, right there by his side, Justin fired the ball to home plate. At this game along with many others, JB and his older brother Josh got to warm up with the team. They stood with them for the National Anthem, and then sat in the stadium right behind their dugout.
On April 11, 2010 it got even better. JB attended the game between JMU and William and Mary in Harrisonburg. It was not just a normal game, not for JB. It was Justin Brown Day at Veterans Memorial Park. JB was so excited to have many of his friends and neighbors attend the game. He again threw out the first pitch before the game. In the fifth inning, JB was able to go into the press box to announce the batters. What a day! The whole family also joined the team when they played away series at George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University last season.
The team is amazing, and the greatest bunch of young men my wife and I have ever met. Even former Dukes Kevin Munson, Michael Fabiaschi and Matt Browning that have gone on to play minor league ball have continued their relationship with JB after they have left Harrisonburg.
Recently, Justin fell ill with a bacterial infection, which put him in the hospital for almost a week. As he lay in the hospital bed he received numerous calls and well wishes from the team by telephone and email. That kind of support, along with the young men seeing life through Justin's eyes, is what this wonderful program is all about. JB has been very fortunate to have been paired with this amazing group of guys. Not only is the team there for Justin when he is down and needs a boost, but they also take the time to teach him all about baseball when he is able. We see glimpses of his experiences everyday. Most notable was last fall ball season when Justin really started to hit the ball. He developed his own batting stance. When we say it was his own, we wondered because it looked a little familiar. When asked, Justin told us "it was a little of Trevor Knight and a little of David Herbek".
Fast forward to 2011, and the start of Justin's second season with the Dukes Baseball team. JB's excitement for the team is overwhelming. He has already joined the team at the Dukes Batter-Up BBQ, where he was able to meet former MLB pitcher Billy Wagner. JB will be in uniform with the Dukes this weekend as they open the 2011 season against Bucknell. We will join the Dukes on the road at George Mason University, our hometown, and the second annual Justin Brown Day will take place on Sunday, April 10th against Georgia State University.
Scott and Kori Brown
NOTE: JMU begins the 2011 season on Feb. 18-20 with a four-game set hosting Bucknell at Eagle Field at Veterans Memorial Park. Friday's season opener will begin at 3 p.m. with forecasted temperatures at 65 degrees. Saturday will feature a noon doubleheader while Sunday's finale will be at 1 p.m.