March 26, 2009
What: Lobos vs. Brigham Young
When: 6 p.m. today; 6 p.m. Friday; Noon Saturday
Where: Isotopes Park
Radio: 1150-AM KDEF
Online: GameTracker, live webcast on GoLobos.com
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
This scenario is part fiction, part truth: A floating line drive off the bat of Lobo Mike Brownstein is dropping in front of a Brigham Young outfielder. The Cougar steps back and one-hops the ball handing Brownstein a single.
In the UNM dugout, teammate Kevin Atkinson jumps to his feet, yelling, "What's the matter with you? Don't you know how to dive for a ball? Show some guts next time."
Now, that scene probably won't be played out over the next three days when the Brigham Young Cougars visit the Lobos in Isotopes Park. This series is too serious. This is Mountain West Conference time.
But the friendly ribbing and friendly rivalry between UNM's second baseman (Brownstein) and its first baseman (Atkinson) over who will end the season with the higher batting average is a healthy sidebar helping the hot-hitting Lobos stay loose and relaxed.
Hey, baseball can be fun, too, even if you are the No. 20-ranked team (Collegiate Baseball poll) in America.
"They tease each other all the time., but it's healthy," said Lobo coach Ray Birmingham. "If an outfielder stops and lets a Browny ball drop in, Atkinson will yell, 'You have to dive for that. '
"If Atkinson hits a ball up the middle that the shortstop lays out for it, but it trickles off the end of his glove, the team will look at the scoreboard to see if it's a hit or an error. If it comes up a hit, Brownstein will say, `That's baloney,` and storm off like he's mad."
Said Brownstein: "I always give him a hard time that he is always getting a break from the scorekeeper and I have to earn my hits."
Of course, the two Lobo buds are not mad. It's a game within a more serious game and they pull hard for each other -- while they have some fun.
"If he (Brownstein) goes 4-for-5, then it becomes a mission for me to go 4-for-5," said Atkinson. "We are trying to outdo each other, but we are still hoping we both do well. It's just a fun thing and sometimes the whole bench gets into it."
Atkinson was the Mountain West Player of the Week this week. Brownstein won it the week before.
"When he (Atkinson) got Player of The Week, the article on line named him as Player of The Week but in the story there was a sentence talking about me by mistake," said Brownstein. "I told Kevin that the reason that happened was because the conference really wanted to give it to me again.
"We do things like that, just having fun. I'm happy he got it (Player of Week), but don't tell him that. We`re really hoping that we both stay hot."
The hitting race between the two seniors, who are the only returning Lobos to start every game last season, is a close one. Going into the BYU series, Atkinson is sitting on a .462 average and Brownstein is at .459. This isn't (yet) a race to lead the hot-hitting Lobos in hitting because Ryan Honeycutt is at .534 and Brian Cavazos-Galvez is at .471.
This is more about two captains, two friends, two seniors having some fun while they try to kick rear and take names on the baseball field.
"If Mike gets a hit that might have been an fielders' choice or maybe an error, I might ask him if he gave (official scorekeeper) some flowers or something," said Atkinson.
Said Brownstein: "We kid each other about how we are better than each other. We put each other down, but it's really to help make each other better."
Atkinson's and Brownstein's stats are typical of UNM's hitting numbers: They are awesome. Brownstein has 50 hits, 34 runs and 28 RBIs. Atkinson has 48 hits, 39 runs and 35 RBIs.
The 22-3 Lobos have been hot most of the season. New Mexico leads the nation in batting average, hits, doubles, triples per game and total triples. The Lobos are second in scoring and slugging percentage.
Brownstein came to UNM from Pima Community College in Arizona. Atkinson came to UNM from New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs, where he was recruited out of the Vancouver area to play for Birmingham at NMJC.
"It was like a different world," Atkinson of Hobbs. "It's a flat, windy desert. But it was warm."
Birmingham said, besides natural talent, one of the reasons Brownstein and Atkinson are such good hitters is because they swallowed their egos and quit going up to the plate trying to just pound the ball.
"They use the whole field and they bought into hitting for average," said the Lobo coach. "Those guys are hard to get out."
Said Atkinson: " I use the whole field now while in high school I used to just pull the ball."
The hitting goal for Brownstein and Atkinson is to stay above .400, maybe end up around .420, .430.
"We hope to keep up our pace," said Brownstein. "That would be fantastic. But we know there are ups and downs during the season."
Brownstein and Atkinson probably could handle some personal ups and downs as long as the UNM team stays hot. The Lobos would like to win a Mountain West title and play in the NCAA Tournament. UNM has not been in NCAA play since 1962.
"We expect to win a lot of games," said Atkinson. "We know we are good, but it was a question of going out there and doing it."
Said Brownstein: "It's one thing to go out and say it, talk about it. But when you really start to believe it then it becomes a real expectation."