Humble Brown center of attention in booth finale

September 28th, 2016

HOUSTON -- At around 10:30 a.m. CT Wednesday morning, Astros bench coach Trey Hillman made his way around the clubhouse to inform players and personnel there would be a team meeting in 15 minutes.

A pep talk? An airing of the grievances? A reminder to stay focused the last four games of the regular season?

Actually, none of the above. Manager A.J. Hinch's reason for gathering the team in this manner before the 12-4 loss to the Mariners was not for on-field reasons, but rather, to give a longtime Houston mainstay a proper salute on his final day as an Astros employee.

Television announcer Bill Brown called his last game on Wednesday, capping a three decades-long Astros broadcasting career that began on Opening Day in 1987. His final day on the job began in most unusual fashion -- standing up in the middle of the Astros' clubhouse to accept a gift from the team -- a bat, signed by the entire roster. Altuve presented the bat on behalf of the Astros.

"It was totally unexpected," Brown said during Wednesday's telecast.

For those who know "Brownie," that was a fitting description for his final day on the job. Though it's his job to appear on television and reach thousands of fans and viewers, one of Brown's many endearing qualities is his humbleness. He craves attention as much as a vegan craves a Big Mac. If the focus turns to him, he is masterful at deflecting it elsewhere -- preferably, back on the field where, in his estimation, it belongs.

Wednesday's role reversal was strange for the longtime baseball announcer.

"I think Brownie was a little uncomfortable standing in front of an entire team in the clubhouse," Hinch said chuckling. "That was a moment we wanted to capture, too, as a memory for him."

Hinch also wanted to make sure the team -- filled with many players who were not even born when Brown began his career -- understood what Brown has meant to the franchise and the importance of his role in telling the story of the Astros.

"I wanted to make sure our players understood what 30 years as an Astro broadcaster means," Hinch said. "Some of the things that he was able to call that were in that room -- 200-hit seasons out of Altuve, the no-hitter by [Mike] Fiers, the home openers for [Alex] Bregman and for [Carlos] Correa and for [George] Springer. He's been an integral part of selling our story and telling our story to our fans and to our family."

Brown may not have wanted any special treatment, but he didn't have much say in the matter. Between the well-wishers who stopped by the booth to snap a photo, and the speech he gave in the media dining room when the front office presented him with a cake, and the salute on the big screen in the middle of the fifth inning, and the many tweets from admiring fans that were run during the telecast, Brown was -- like it or not -- the man of the hour.

"It was a weird day," Brown said after the final out was recorded on Wednesday. "Because you understand you're in a trap and you can't get out of it. You just have to go with it and say, 'Thank you very much.'"

He did that a lot through the day. He said it when Hinch gave him a bottle of wine, a gift imported from Dodgers manager Dave Roberts' winery on the West Coast. He said it again when Altuve and the team presented him with the bat. And again when he received a barrage of text messages from baseball friends, past and present, wishing him well -- to name only a few, former Astros catcher Brad Ausmus; former Astros GM Bill Wood and Brown's old announcing partner, Jim Deshaies.

And again when the telecast ran a salute from legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, who will also retire when the regular season concludes on Sunday.

"Congratulations to you on a magnificent career," Scully said. "Thirty great years with the Astros, and now you found time to go into another life. I send you God bless and hugs. We're all thinking of you. You're a great broadcaster, and those of us who have shared time with you salute you, indeed."

That salute in particular took Brown completely by surprise.

"Baseball poet, and for us, the greatest broadcaster of all time," Brown said.

Later in the broadcast, Brown's announcing partner, Alan Ashby, asked what Brown will reflect upon the most in retirement.

"Next year, I'll be watching you, and whoever is in this chair, and it'll be a good ballgame, the team will be doing well and I'll be thinking, 'You idiot, what have you done?'" Brown joked.

After he signed off of his final telecast, Brown summed up his emotions with the same matter-of-factness that served his viewers well for 30 years.

"I'm not sad," he said. "I'm just grateful and thankful and blessed. I'm just grateful to have had the experience."