Lobo Baseball Greats: Mike Brownstein
Oct. 18, 2012
By Terry Kelly
Albuquerque, N.M. – When talking about his baseball career at the University of New Mexico, Mike Brownstein kept coming back to one word: opportunity.
“The opportunity to play at the Division-I level (led me to UNM),” the 2009 Mountain West Player of the Year said. “Really, for me, it was any opportunity to play. That was my mindset. They gave me an opportunity and I went with it.”
He certainly did.
After playing his high school ball at Sahuaro High School and being named first team all-state, the Tucson, Ariz., native stayed close to home and attended Pima Community College where he played for two years. Then came the relatively easy decision of coming to Albuquerque to play for the Lobos.
“It’s close to home,” he said. “I knew I was going to go there when I was in junior college.”
Part of the reason he knew where he was going, he said, was that no other school offered him a scholarship.
That oversight by other schools turned out to be the Lobos’ gain.
Brownstein came in and immediately started hitting the ball all over the field. In his first year in the program, as a junior in 2008, he led the Lobos with 89 hits, 29 walks, 20 stolen bases, and tied for the team lead with four triples. He finished the season with a .350 average and slugged .452 as he was named to the All-Mountain West Second Team.
Current UNM assistant coach Ken Jacome, who coached Brownstein during his time as a Lobo, raved about his ability to make consistent solid contact.
“He was an unbelievable hitter,” he said. “He was one of the toughest kids to strike out that I’ve seen. He put every ball in play.”
This is evidenced by Brownstein tying a Lobo record for hits in a game with six against Air Force on May 14, 2009. He finished that season with 101 hits, the sixth most in a single season in school history.
That turned out to be a pretty memorable year for Brownstein.
“I met my wife my senior year in ‘09,” he said. “That entire season (was great). To have that Player of the Year season and meet my wife was pretty special.”
Brownstein hit .414 that season with 23 doubles, 72 runs, 49 RBIs, 20 steals, and an NCAA-leading 11 triples to earn MW Player of the Year honors and was named to three All-America teams: American Baseball Coaches Association Second Team, Collegiate Baseball Second Team, and the All-Ping! Baseball Second Team. Following the season he was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 14th round of the Major League Baseball draft.
“Just how much was given to me as far as my career and to go play professionally and to meet my wife that season, you couldn’t write up a better script for that season,” he said.
Brownstein finished his career as a Lobo with a .382 average, which easily ranks in the top 10 all-time at UNM.
“Mike Brownstein was the MVP of the league,” UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said of his former player. “He went from being undrafted (out of high school) to a 14th round draft pick. He is typical of what goes on here. He came here and really learned how to hit. He was a .400 hitter, one of seven in the past five years.”
To Brownstein, though, his statistics and accolades weren’t as important as what he learned at UNM.
“I grew so much as a person and a player (during my time there),” he said. “Playing for Coach Birmingham not only helps you and teaches you the game, but he also teaches you a lot about life. He teaches you how to be a blue collar person. That really stuck with me to this day.”
It wasn’t just his ability to hit that got him drafted, however. He was a solid, well-rounded player with several skills that could translate to the professional level.
“He played great defense,” Jacome said. “He was a good base runner and base stealer. He’s very smart. He knew how to play the game. He was a good kid. He came over and did a good job for us for two years. He put himself in position to play pro ball.”
Brownstein went on to play in the Brewers’ minor league system for a few years, reaching as high as Double-A. An injury, however, cost him an entire season, and his playing career is now over.
“If he hadn’t gotten hurt he’d still be playing,” Birmingham said. “He is one of the Lobo greats.”
Brownstein took the injury in stride, though, and tried to stay positive. He came back to that one word and viewed it as a wonderful opportunity, even if it didn’t go exactly as he would have liked.
“It’s a grind,” he said about playing minor league ball. “Unfortunately, I got injured and that put me back. The competition is very high and it was wonderful to be able to play at that level. All the work I put into my career was worth it. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the big leagues, but I got to levels I never thought I would. Playing professionally, it was an opportunity. Looking back I can say I got paid to play.”
He now lives in San Antonio, Texas, working for his uncle’s business. His true passion, however, remains baseball, and he is currently coaching a youth team. He says that every practice he preaches what he learned as a Lobo and tries to pass on a team-first mentality to his players.
“(UNM) was the first team I had actually been on, as a player, to really bring in the team aspect of baseball,” he said. “Coach Birmingham and Coach Jacome really instilled in the player’s minds that we’re playing for each other. Being able to play for the team made that ’09 year that much more special. You just don’t find that (very often). Playing for the team and playing the right way just summarizes the philosophy of the program. That’s why the program is so special to me. I learned how to play the game the right way; that’s the bottom line. And it gave me the opportunity to play professionally.
“The hardest thing is to get players to have the right mentality, to play the game the right way, and have that winning mentality and desire. That’s what New Mexico is all about right now. Nothing great is accomplished if everyone is playing for themselves. That’s what is so special about New Mexico. It’s a great atmosphere.”
Brownstein said he is “as involved with the program as I can be, being in Texas” and regularly follows the progress of the team. He is excited about the potential of the team not only next season, but also for the future.
“As we win more and more, what’s possible goes up,” he said. “We’ve been to a regional and that didn’t seem possible before. Now the bar is constantly on the rise. That’s what is so special. As Coach Birmingham says, going to Omaha (and the College World Series) is the goal. At the beginning it seemed far away, but as the years go on it becomes more of a realistic expectation and goal. The bar keeps getting set higher and higher each year, each recruiting class.”
The Lobos have played in an NCAA regional each of the past three seasons after not making a single one for nearly 50 years. They have also won the past two MW Tournaments and shared the regular-season championship last season with since-departed TCU.
“Winning is a mentality and that’s what has started to be created there,” Brownstein said. “The Lobos are building winners. That’s what the other top programs are like: Texas and all the big-time College World Series teams. Players go there with the intention of winning. That’s what New Mexico is starting to be: a contender.”
Despite how easy it is to look ahead and get excited about the possibilities, Brownstein thinks the current team should enjoy the journey and try not to lose focus of their current goals.
“Be grateful for what you have because you don’t know when it’ll be over,” he said. “Enjoy the process. The game doesn’t owe you anything. You need to respect it. You need to respect the game and the game will respect you. Play the game the right way and set your goals high. Set the goals higher than you can imagine. That’s how you become a champion. Really enjoy where you are now and take it all in. Don’t be focused on the future. Be focused on the now. If it’s meant to be, it’s really meant to be.
In summing up his feelings about UNM, Brownstein finished where he started: with opportunity.
“I feel like playing for the Lobos still affects me,” he said. “It was such a great opportunity. I’m very grateful for the chance to play there. The program is on the rise and it was just a great, great experience.”
Mike Brownstein Career Statistics
2008 – .350, 89-254, 53 runs, 37 RBIs, 12 doubles, four triples, two home runs, 20 SB, 29 BB, 6 HBP, 115 total bases, .453 slugging, 31 SO
Mike Brownstein Career Highlights
- tied Lobo record with six hits in one game (vs. Air Force, 5/14/09)