Brownstein Finds Sense of Belonging
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  10/09/2008
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Oct. 9, 2008

By Laura Rasmussen - Media Relations Student Assistant

Fitting in is never an easy task. Just ask Lobo second basemen Mike Brownstein. For Brownstein, that sense of belonging showed up last season when he joined the University of New Mexico baseball team as a transfer.

He hasn't looked back since.

Brownstein began his collegiate playing career at Cal Poly. Things didn't go as planned, and he spent his sophomore season at Pima Community College in his hometown of Tucson, Ariz. But he said it wasn't until he sported the cherry and silver that he finally felt he was where he needed to be.

"I have been through a long process for really just finding a place where I fit in," Brownstein said. "I have had to transfer different schools and move different places. This is the first time in my collegiate career where I feel like I am at home, and I belong here."

"It has been a rough road for me during college and now it is starting to settle in," he continued. "When I came here, everything just started to click."

Then again, fitting in is never an easy task. And it certainly didn't come easy or fast for Brownstein at UNM.

"To be honest with you, a lot of guys didn't like Mike when he came in, but he has gained a lot of respect," Lobos head coach Ray Birmingham said. "Everybody had a misreading about him. Not everybody had respect for him. He has earned the respect of his teammates."

The respect came with the way Brownstein carried himself. He finished the 2008 season second on the team with a .350 batting average, but it was more than just his on the field performance.

Birmingham said that Brownstein was willing to be open. He was willing to alter his attitude. He was willing to prove everybody wrong.

"Mike took a lot of ribbing when he got here, and he put his ego over in the trash can and said, `I don't need you anymore, you are just going to cause me trouble.' He went about his business, he got teased a lot, and he laughed," Birmingham said.

Fitting in comes with time after all. Brownstein said once he discovered his role on the team, he knew he belonged.

"They expect me to be a contributor," he said. "And that is what I need. I need to feel like every day I can contribute to the team. At the other places, I just didn't feel like that was my job. Here, I am called upon to make big plays and that is what I like."

As the leadoff hitter for the Lobos in 2008, Brownstein undoubtedly established himself - and succeeded - at that role last season. He led the team in runs with 53, walks with 29, and carried the highest on-base percentage at .429. For his efforts, Brownstein was named to the All-Mountain West Conference Second Team.

Birmingham said Brownstein is special because he is always ready for feedback.

"It was my first year. It was Mike's first year. The thing I needed was the new Lobo attitude and he was it. He let me coach him," Birmingham said. "He was comfortable enough to let me talk to him about his hitting, which doesn't always go on with other players."

Brownstein said he feels like he became better when he arrived at UNM last year. Working with Birmingham and discovering areas of improvement is where he said it all started for him.

"I always had some flaws that he definitely brought out, and he has fixed a lot of them. I mean we all have flaws, but he has made me so much better in my game," he said. "Every day I just continue to work on what he has told me to get better."

"Nothing happens until you have that open, honest discussion," Birmingham said. "I am not always right, but our discussions help him evaluate it and stay on task. That is huge."

Again, it all came back to Brownstein embracing an open attitude.

"You learn to listen to what (Coach) Birmingham has to say," he said. "And you take it and believe it."

Brownstein started all 59 games his first season as a Lobo. He compiled a 17-game hitting streak from March 9-April 4 and a 13-game hitting streak from April 19-May 11.

Birmingham said Brownstein came hungry to learn and ready to get better. The results have reflected the attitude.

"He is the kind of player I like: hard-nosed, hustles all the time, plays to win, competes," said Birmingham, who compares Brownstein's style of play to big leaguer David Eckstein. "He will come in and get you and is not scared of anybody, and that is what Lobo baseball is. And that's what Mike is."

Brownstein prides himself on using his abilities and attitude to change the game. He said he likes the challenge of setting the tone of the game.

"When I am on the bases I like to change the game," said Brownstein, who swiped 20 bags last season. "I like to be in control. I like to make the other team think and to be a tough out. I like to be just a pesky player and make it hard for the opposition to do their game plan."

"He can change the game in so many ways: with his glove, with his speed and stolen bases, with his bat, with his attitude," Birmingham said. "His approach to the game becomes contagious."

Birmingham said Brownstein is having a great fall, especially in the hitting department, and he may shift to the heart of the order come spring.

"Mike will just be Mike," he said. "Last year he was huge for this team, and this year he will be huge again."