Harrisonburg, Va., February 15, 2012-Two seasons ago, the James Madison baseball team adopted Justin Brown from Haymarket, Virginia to join the team as an honorary member. The relationship continued through Friends of Jaclyn, an organization that pairs collegiate athletic teams with children who have brain tumors. The organization's mission is to improve the quality of life for paired children and to foster a deep relationship between teams and families. The Diamond Dukes consider Justin, his brother and parents to be members of the baseball family.
"Justin has had a huge impact on not only the team and I, but the entire JMU baseball family," said baseball captain Bradley Shaban. "His courage and strength are a great inspiration to all of us here at JMU. Justin's story puts everything in perspective and helps us all realize this is just a game and we are truly blessed to play college baseball."
Justin was diagnosed with a Craniopharyngioma brain tumor at the age of 2 years, 3 months. On February 25, 2005 he had the tumor, which was the size of a lemon, removed at the Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C. The tumor was 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 re-growth. During the most recent surgery, it was determined that some of the re-growth was on his carotid artery. This is a very dangerous area, so it was left untouched. Justin is now nine years old and is entering his third season with the Dukes.
"Justin has his own locker in the JMU baseball locker room with his name on it, so he is always on our mind. We like to keep him updated with the team information through Twitter, just as we would with any other player and the team will contact him to see how everything is going," explained Shaban.
Brown took time to answer a few questions about last season and what he is looking forward to this season.
What was your favorite memory of the 2011 season?
My favorite memory of the season was when I got to bat during pre-game warm-ups with the team and running the bases after the game on Justin Brown Day. Also, when the whole team surprised me at school and of course when I was watching the team win the CAA championship on Madizone.
Did you have any idea that the entire team was going to surprise you at school and take you on the bus to the game at George Mason?
No, I thought we were going to have an assembly in the gym for something boring and all of a sudden the whole team was there to surprise me and my classmates.
What was it like meeting another Friends of Jaclyn adoptee Levi Mayo of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg?
It was nice and fun that we both got to throw a pitch out before the game.
Which JMU players are your favorite to watch and why?
David Herbek and Jake Lowery last year because they hit the long ball. I liked seeing them at the Batter-Up BBQ this year. Jake gave me a baseball card and I won his bat in the auction. My favorite all-time player is #2 Trevor Knight. This year my favorite is #22 DJ Brown; I like how he pitches.
In your local little league, what is your favorite position to play and why?
Pitcher and first base. Pitcher cause I like to throw it hard. First base because you get the ball a lot.
What are you most looking forward to this coming season?
The 3rd Justin Brown Day on Sunday April 29th against George Mason and watching the games at JMU.
Any advice for the 2012 Diamond Dukes?
Win another Championship! Play hard each game.
The Diamond Dukes will kick of their season Feb. 17 against Coastal Carolina in Conway, S.C. and the first 2012 home game is Feb. 22 when the Dukes host Longwood at 4 p.m.
This year, Justin Brown Day will be April 29 beginning at 2 p.m. when the Dukes take on George Mason at Veterans Memorial Park. Brown will be introduced prior to the game and will throw the first pitch of the game."Justin Brown Day is always an exciting day for Justin, the Brown family, and the players," said Shaban. "It's a celebration of Justin being a member of our team. We are honored to have such a strong brave person a part of our team, and we like to show that on Justin Brown Day."