Sun, Jul 11, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Former baseball All-Star plays a dangerous game

AP , NEW YORK

Warming up alongside Mike Schmidt and Ozzie Smith at the Astrodome before the 1986 All-Star game, Chris Brown figured he'd play forever. Big, strong and full of pop and promise, he was a young Giant.

He doubled and scored the National League's first run that night, yet was out of baseball within a few years, done in by a string of injuries that caused some teammates to question his toughness.

No one doubts him these days.

Brown is now smack in the middle of Iraq, surrounded by snipers, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. He chose this job -- driving, inspecting and repairing 18-wheel fuel trucks for Halliburton Co.

"It's a place I would've never thought 20 years ago that I'd be," the former third baseman said in a telephone interview this week.

Brown hopes to watch on satellite television Tuesday night when the All-Star game returns to Houston. It comes on at 4am local time.

"I guess Rocket Roger Clemens might start. He started against us in the All-Star game I played in," Brown said. "Back then, I thought I'd be finishing up right around now, too."

Instead, he's spent 10 months mostly at military bases as a civilian contractor.

"There's always a danger factor around us. I try not to worry about it," he said. "I just take it day-by-day. The Lord will take care of me."

In April, he was driving outside Baghdad when a convoy was attacked behind him. The bodies of four employees of Kellogg Brown & Root -- a Halliburton subsidiary -- were later found near the site of the ambush. About 40 Halliburton workers have been killed since the fighting began.

Another time, Brown was caught in a sandstorm in the desert and barely escaped an AK-47 gunman at close range.

"I got a bullet or whatever in the windshield. I've been shot at by mortars and RPGs," he said.

He hasn't driven for a couple of months. When he did, he wore a helmet that was much different than the one he put on at the plate.

Brown was hitting .336, second in the NL, when he was picked to play in the All-Star game at age 24. He replaced Schmidt to start the sixth inning and doubled off Charlie Hough in the eighth.

In the ninth, Brown grounded into a game-ending double play against Don Aase with runners at first and third in the NL's 3-2 loss.

"Just to know for one night you were there with the greatest players in the world -- that was really special," he said.

While playing for San Francisco, San Diego and Detroit from 1984-1989, Brown never made it through a full season without getting hurt.

Dr. Frank Jobe operated on his shoulder, and his jaw was broken by a fastball from Danny Cox in 1987.

There also was a string of nagging ailments, from an eye infection to a serious toothache. Fittingly, the one time he led the league in a category, it was in hit by pitches.

"Unfortunately, Chris had trouble staying healthy. No telling how great he could have been, had he been able to avoid missing so many games," Schmidt said.

"He's an everyday player now. I understand he's working in a world few of us can relate to. A world where perseverance, heart and courage are common traits. A world where there are no trainers, whirlpools and rubdowns. Chris goes to work every day for 12 hours a day, not dodging inside fastballs, but dodging real bullets, mortars, and grenades."

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