Ryan Brown’s experience at the high school baseball level has come to fruition.
Last week, Brown was named the new head baseball coach at St. Francis Catholic Academy.
Although it’s his first opportunity to be a head coach at the varsity level, Brown has been in uniform for over 200 wins during his time at the high school level.
The confidence he has to lead a team didn’t just happen overnight.
“It came from using the things I was taught as a player and then using them again as a coach,” said Brown, who was part of two state semifinals appearances as a player at P.K. Yonge. “Having the experience that I have is huge. I think I’ve played every possible role you could possibly have during a high school baseball game. I know what works, and what doesn’t work so well, and what things you have to do, and prepare for in order to give your team the best chance to win.”
Brown made his return to high school ball this past year, joining head coach Daniel Bell’s staff.
“I really enjoyed getting to know him this season,” Bell said. “He brings an infectious enthusiasm to the team. It doesn’t matter if it is the regional championship or the second game of a preseason doubleheader, Ryan’s passion for the game and his players is always the same — 1,000 percent.”
However, at the conclusion of the 2023 season, Bell stepped down to explore new career opportunities, handing the reigns to Brown.
“Ryan Brown has incredible enthusiasm for the game of baseball and more importantly Saint Francis baseball,” said Josh Kerkau, who was recently appointed the new athletics director at SFCA. “He relates to our players on their level and is able to bring out the best of their abilities. He believes in our ‘Strength of the Wolf’ mentality and will lead the baseball program in the right direction for years to come.”
Brown’s high school journey began at P.K. Yonge in the early 2000s when he was a part of two state semifinal appearances with the Blue Wave under then head coach Todd Gray.
“To compare it to college baseball, it was like making it to Omaha,” he remembered. “Back in those days the FHSAA final four venue was George Steinbrenner Field (Legends Field at the time), which is the spring training facility for the New York Yankees. Being the Yankees, as you would expect, everything was first class. Doc Gooden was actually working for the Yankees at the time, and I remember him socializing with us in the dugout.”
In 2001 the Blue Wave (27-6) were state runners-up, falling to King’s Academy (West Palm Beach), 2-1, in the Class 2A state title game. That team was built on pitching and defense.
“Seniors Flint Wipke and Mike Mercadante were an incredible 1-2 punch, and everyone knows, to make it deep in the FHSAA playoffs, one horse isn’t good enough, you’ve gotta have two in the stable,” Brown said. “We rode those guys all the way to the state title game and came up one run short.”
The 2002 team was a completely different team, which was based around hitting.
“That team played with a vengeance, and would just outhit you to death,” Brown recalled. “After going to state in ’01, now we knew what the expectation level was, and we were going to do anything we could to get back to Tampa. I remember that we all wrote the word ‘Destiny’ on our hats that season because we felt like we were destined to get back to the Final Four and avenge our loss from the season before.”
The Blue Wave were led by FHSAA Hall of Famer Ryne Malone, who set the state record with 265 hits and the national record with an astounding .713 on-base percentage. In 2002, Malone hit .620 for P.K. Yonge with 15 home runs and 63 runs batted in.
“I remember that was the year that Ryne went back and forth with Prince Fielder for the state home run lead,” Brown said. “Years later, I was chatting with Coach Gray before a game that we were set to coach against each other in, and he said that the 2002 Blue Wave were the best hitting team he had ever coached. That made me proud because 2002 was the season that I became one of our stars.”
Although he had played a lot during the 2001 regular season as a sophomore during their first Final Four run, he said he was more of the ‘rah-rah’ guy in the dugout as he watched from the bench.
But as a junior, he actually led the team in postseason hits, postseason batting average and postseason on-base percentage.
“Just at the right time, I was hot as a pistol,” Brown said. “I’ll say this though, I wish I could’ve had one more hit. With the bases loaded, two outs, and clinging to a one-run lead, Clearwater Central Catholic brought in their ace to face me and try to get the final out. Their ace happened to be some guy named Riley Cooper (former Gator wide receiver and pitcher/outfielder). Anyways, I tried to ambush a first-pitch fastball and hit it solid, but unfortunately, I lined out to the shortstop, ending the game and our season.”
P.K. Yonge lost to eventual state champion Clearwater Central Catholic, 5-4, in the Class 2A state semifinals, but the experience of making it back-to-back was special.
“I think I speak for all of my teammates when I say that we never think of it as ‘what could’ve been’ because it’s hard enough to get to one Final Four, and we had the chance to reach two of them,” Brown said. “I think that’s what we’re most proud of. Even as teenagers, we knew that going to back-to-back Final Fours didn’t happen very often, and what we just accomplished was something special. Then as the years go by, you start to notice that no other Gainesville teams have made it to the Final Four since. It makes you realize how blessed we were.”
Brown began his coaching career in 2010 at his alma mater, P.K. Yonge, coaching five seasons as an assistant to then Blue Wave head coach Brian Simmons. During his tenure as an assistant coach at PKY, the Blue Wave baseball team made four regional appearances, won three district titles and advanced to the regional finals in 2012.
He then served two seasons at GHS as an assistant to former Hurricanes head coach Adam Souilliard. The Hurricanes won 17-plus games each season Brown was there.
Prior to Saint Francis, Brown was the head baseball coach at Queen of Peace Catholic Academy (QPCA), which is the elementary/middle school that feeds into Saint Francis.
Brown started the inaugural baseball team at QPCA and served as the program’s head coach for five years before stepping down after the 2022 season.
“I’m thankful for my time coaching at the middle school level,” he said. “It gave me a chance to spread my wings as a head coach, and it helped me gain some valuable experience.”
Over half of the current Wolves baseball roster played for Brown while at Queen of Peace, where he is currently the school’s PE teacher. He will remain in that position at Queen of Peace.
“This works out well because a lot of our core players came through Queen of Peace, and already know my system and how I do things,” Brown said. “Communication is very key in my system, and it really helps when you’ve been using the same strategies and terminology with the same players since they were 12 years old. It’s not just the QOP players though, even the players that I met during this past season as an assistant coach, I’ve formed a quick bond with.”
The future is bright for St. Francis Catholic Academy, which only lost one senior and is gaining a pretty solid incoming freshman class, according to Brown.
“I feel like we’ve got a pretty good thing going right now,” he said. “Though young and talented, we do have quite a bit of experience on this team because most of them had to play every day as freshman and sophomores last year. I’m pretty excited about the potential that this team has. Along with the young talent, we also actually have two to three players that are returning from injuries that required them to miss last season. Those guys are also hungry and looking to contribute.”
Brown said his experience as a player and assistant coach has benefited him because it taught him how to win and what things you need to do in order to prepare a team to be successful.
“I firmly believe that my success on the high school baseball diamond positively affected me throughout my life, and instilled in me the confidence and work ethic that it takes to be successful in the game of life,” Brown said. “As much as I want my players at Saint Francis to experience the feeling of winning, what I really want them to experience is the sense of accomplishment, and the feeling of gratification that comes along with it.”
He always used the same core values, principles, and strategies from the Final Four teams with the teams that he has coached because “they work.”
“Perhaps what benefits me most as a coach from this experience, is that it sets the standard for what my expectation levels are, and what I hope to eventually accomplish at Saint Francis,” said Brown, who said noted that another thing that drives him is the fact that St. Francis has not made the postseason very often throughout the school’s short history. “In my opinion, a team is judged based on how far they make it in the postseason. However, I also understand that in order to make it far in the postseason, you have to actually make the playoffs first. We’ve set some very clearly defined goals for our team. I don’t care if it’s an automatic bid or an At-large berth, just get me in the dance. I believe that’s a very realistic goal for where our program is right now, and I’m going to do everything I can to help us reach that goal.”
In 2024, Brown said you can expect to see a Wolves team that plays the game with energy and passion.
“He is definitely going to be a fun coach to play for, but his knowledge of the game and attention to detail is what earned him my recommendation for the job,” Bell said. “I wish him the best of luck and will be there to root on the Wolves Baseball team as they continue developing exceptional young men and winning players.”