It was a horrific night in 1981 that has stayed with 1973 Bellows Falls Union High School graduate Mike Brown forever.
The evening began well enough. Brown had been covering a Cooperstown High Christmas basketball tournament and had hurried the 16 miles back to the Oneonta Star to write the story.
He had been pounding out the story when he noticed a familiar face coming through the back door. It was Jaclin Peper, the woman he would marry the following June.
She brought devastating news. His 21-year-old brother Terry Brown and fellow volunteer firefighter Dana Fuller had died battling a block fire back home in Bellows Falls.
Right then and there, Brown decided to honor his brother by doing everything to the best of his ability. He would dedicate his life to him.
“It put me into overdrive. I had been an underachiever,” Brown said on Monday from his home in Ohio.
Brown was in the process of writing his second book Burnham and Brown, a story about his 90-year-old father Richard Brown and his friend Lyle Burnham who died in 2019
The tale is about the 75-year friendship of two guys who grew up poor in Brattleboro, fought in the Korean War together and remained close until Burnham’s death.
Brown is well into the writing of this book that has a forward written by former Vermont Governor Thomas Salmon, but you don’t have to wait until its release to read a book by Mike Brown.
He has one out now titled The Umpire’s Bunkhouse: Baseball Stories From Cooperstown’s Dreams Park.
Brown has been an umpire on and off for 40 years and six years ago became certified to do varsity high school baseball games in Ohio. He is scheduled to call 29 games this spring.
He also umpires games at the Dreams Park in the idyllic town of Cooperstown, New York, the site of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Many of the stories in his book are about fellow umpires who work in that gigantic youth baseball tournament each summer and live together during the event in bunkhouse 41A.
You get to know these “men in blue” and what makes them tick but Brown’s own story is riveting and provides unforgettable portions of the book.
He regards umpiring at Dreams Park in 2019 as a miracle for he was stricken by a heart attack in late August of 2018.
He had been at a concert with his wife in downtown Canal Winchester, Ohio where they live. He was unable to walk back to the car, experiencing shortness of breath.
He was admitted to a hospital in Columbus and emergency triple bypass surgery was performed.
He was nervous about the rigors of umpiring that lengthy 2019 tournament in Cooperstown, wondering whether or not he would have to go home within a week. It would be a month of umpiring 40 games but he made it through and has continued to progress.
Today, he is strong and healthy, feeling much more like the former JV basketball player at St. Michael’s College.
Everyone of Mike Brown’s era remembers the 1971 Bellows Falls football team that defeated Montpelier 14-13 in the Division I state championship football game.
When Brown was the sports editor of the Oneonta Star, he did a story of a simulated game between that 1971 Terrier team and an unbeaten Oneonta team at the time.
Brown had the BF state champions winning in a close game because of star linebacker Grumpy Haskell.
“He was a dominant force. He willed that team to win,” Brown said.
Brown has a long resume. Its lines included stints at the Plattsburgh Press Republican, Oneonta Star, a public relations job in New York City, working in public relations for Marietta College in Ohio and, after the Oneonta Star job, he had a run of three years running his own sports weekly in the Oneonta-Cooperstown area called the Sporting Eye.
Sporting Eye was a name he took from a weekly sports paper in Vermont that he had worked for and was owned by Springfield’s Lee Maidrand.
Those were great days in Oneonta where he got to cover the Baseball Hall of Fame and interview greats on the Otesaga Hotel porch like Warren Spahn, Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson Bob Gibson and Cool Papa Bell.
But he had a lot of fun covering a player who became far more famous for his exploits in the NFL.
That was John Elway when he was a right fielder for the Oneonta Yankees in 1982.
“He batted .301 that year but it was unbelievable the way he could throw from right field,” Brown said.
George Steinbrenner paid Elway $150,000 that season and Brown says when they went out for drinks after games, Elway always bought the first round.
Brown almost did not make the drive from Bellows Falls for the interview at the Star.
There was a raging snowstorm outside and Brown’s parents were fearful of him making the trip.
Finally, his grandmother, who had suffered a stroke and never said much, piped up and said, “You would be a damn fool if you didn’t go.”
The publisher Ed Somers offered Brown the job at $250 a week and also added another jewel. Brown was made the lead reporter for the entire chain of 23 newspapers for the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid.
Brown said he did not have the best relationship with his father growing up but Richard and Mike are now very close and Mike can’t wait to tell his story in his forthcoming book.
Despite his age, Richard Brown is “sharp as a tack” according to Mike and is emailing him information for the book daily from his home in Dunedin, Florida.
One item that has surprised Mike is just how poor his father was growing up in a trailer park in West Brattleboro.
He describes him making 50 cents a day at age 14 working from sunup to sundown maple sugaring and being extremely proud of that.
Retirement for Mike Brown is hardly the life of rest and relaxation. It’s about umpiring and writing books.
His industriousness comes from a father driven to work and a late brother who inspires him to do his best each day.