interview by todd starowitz

In this installment of “My Baseball Journey,” NPA introduces Cam Brown. A Pontiac, Illinois, and Central Michigan University product, the Detroit Tigers signed Brown as a free agent in 2022.

 Brown has compiled a 7-5 record and a 2.97 earned run average in 62 games in two full minor league seasons at Single-A Lakeland and High-A West Michigan. He has a career 1.27 WHIP, and his twelve saves in 2023 placed him among the leaders in all of minor league baseball last season.

What sports did you play as a child?: “I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t think I’d play baseball. When I see pictures of me when I’m two or three years old, I’m always playing baseball in the yard. My dad was the biggest influence on my interest in baseball. He encouraged it. Baseball games were always on (TV or radio). My parents always told me that if it’s what I wanted to do I needed to go for it. I feel like when you are a kid in fifth grade, and the teacher asks you what you want to do, and you say you want to be a baseball player, they often respond by asking for your backup plan. My parents always told me you don’t need a backup plan if you go 100 hundred percent into something. I played basketball in high school too. It was always baseball and basketball, which was probably a good thing. Looking at it now, I think a lot of kids specialize too early. In the winter I put the baseball down and played basketball. Basketball kept me athletic to play baseball. I felt like I was always loose throwing a baseball after playing basketball.”

 Where did you play travel baseball?: “When I was twelve, I started going from Pontiac (Illinois) to Lockport to play for the Illinois Sparks. At the time, the Sparks only had two teams, and it was one of the premier programs in Illinois. I was really excited to get out of Pontiac to do that. I was a play-down, though. I was playing with my age but not my grade. After my 15U season, I moved up with my grade. The Sparks wanted me to just pitch with my grade, but I wasn’t ready to just give up the bat. I went and tried out for the other area travel teams, and I made most of them. I decided I would play for the Downers Grove Longshots because they would let me hit and play shortstop. I broke my ankle during fall ball. During the winter, I didn’t love baseball. We went to a showcase at the Dome in the winter, where the Sparks practiced. All I did at the showcase was pitch and I started to get interest from some schools that day. I missed being in the Dome and practicing with the Sparks, so I put some feelers out to see if I could come back, and they took me back. It brought the joy of going to practice back.”

How was your recruitment?: 

“When I returned to the Sparks, my junior year in 2014-2015, everyone told me my future was as a pitcher. I played with my grade and age that summer for the first time since I was eleven. We traveled all over and played in a lot of the big tournaments, and that’s when I began getting recruited by some schools. They were mostly mid-majors and a few bigger schools that said they liked what they saw. I got invited to a few camps, and they discussed the possibility of being a recruited walk-on. I possibly wouldn’t have gotten an opportunity to pitch until I was a junior, and I couldn’t imagine having to wait that long to play. 

I really wanted to go to Illinois State because, at the time, I thought it would be cool to play close to home, and it’s right down the road. I grew up going to all of the ISU basketball and football games with my dad, so I thought that would be cool. They didn’t show much interest other than for a recruited walk-on spot. Because I was in their back yard I didn’t feel that’s what I deserved. 

Central Michigan basically offered me the same thing, but they didn’t have any money left. I liked it up there. We went on the visit, and I didn’t decide. They finally told me I had two weeks to decide because if I weren’t coming they would fill the spot with someone else. I visited again and they had a football game against Oklahoma State. I decided that’s where I wanted to be and committed a few days later. I thought that by sophomore year, I would get some (scholarship) money because that’s what it sounded like, but when I got back that year, there was no money. They didn’t pay for my books, and another one of my buddies who pretty much committed to the same promise was getting his stuff paid for. I was wondering what was going on. I didn’t get scholarship money until there was a coaching change my junior year. I loved the new coach (Jordan Bischel, now the head coach at the University of Cincinnati) and staff.”

What were the most significant differences you encountered when you began working with Tom House and NPA?: “Kind of from the jump, when you begin doing the protocols, you know there’s something different than most ways of training you’ve come across. It’s unique because most programs don’t hit every part of your body and every type of movement that you need to make to throw a ball. Everything that you are doing has pitching in mind, which is different. One of the first times I thought this would work was at my first NPA camp in Coronado (California). My stride went from five feet to seven feet in a day. The ball came out harder. That was an eye-opener for me, which made me commit to it. Tom and NPA showed me results in a day and it’s really hard to do that. I don’t know if anyone else does that. That’s another thing about doing NPA stuff. When you do it, you have to commit to it fully. You can’t be half-in on it because if you aren’t fully in you won’t get the full potential out of it. I’ve seen a lot of improvement over the last two years. I got lucky because there’s been so much to get right fast. I got a boost quickly because there were many things I wasn’t doing before that were easy to fix.”

 What were your primary fixes when you began working with NPA?: “Number one was definitely plantar flexion and stride length. That was by far the biggest. Fixing my posture right off the bat was important, too. I was a straight-up, drop into my back leg, and spin thrower. NPA fixed my posture, so I didn’t have to drop, and my first movement was forward. I then got the feel of the plantar flexion and leap, and everything fell into place after that.”

What have been the most surprising and challenging things you’ve encountered with the Detroit Tigers organization?:

“One of the biggest things I encountered when I got to pro ball is I thought I’d be completely on my own regarding routine. I figured I’d continue to do what I was doing because what I was doing was why they signed me. That’s not exactly how it is. They liked what they saw, but the Tigers think there are things they can do to enhance my development. Your everyday program in-season isn’t exactly how you had it before getting signed. It’s not a bad thing. If you are stubborn about your routine and are unwilling to be flexible, it will probably be detrimental to you because you’re not willing to change mentally. If you’re willing to work with it, and do what they want you to, you can still do the things you did before. You’ve got to make them happy and make yourself happy.”

Have you gotten any pushback on the NPA protocols from the Tigers organization?: “I haven’t gotten any pushback on it. Some of our coordinators will ask me questions about it every once in a while. Occasionally, a coordinator will ask, ‘What does Tom think about this?’ or ‘What is his view on this?’ The coordinators and brass seem good with the NPA stuff. It helps to have guys in the organization like Sawyer Gipson-Long, who is all in on it, and Brendan White, and they are both big leaguers, so that helps because I have guys who are ahead of me in the organization who are doing the same thing and having success.”

What have you been working on this offseason?: “At the beginning of the offseason my ankle was a bit banged up from the wear and tear of the year. I was trying to make my body feel perfect again. I started on all the strength and conditioning things, (weighted ball) holds, and medicine balls. Now I’m starting to get myself going faster. I’ve put on weight. The Tigers made a big deal about my weight toward the end of the year. I don’t have difficulty maintaining weight during the season, but they think I’ll be better if I carry more weight. The weight has gone on easily and I feel good. There’s a little bit of fat on there now. They do all of the body fat testing and told me a need a bit more fat on you. I guess that doesn’t hurt. My main goal is to keep my body moving as fast as possible. My goal is that when I return to spring training, I can move at the same speed but with a bit more mass. It should give me a tick of velo. I haven’t tested velo yet. I’m trying not to put a number on it until it’s time to get on it. I swing the velo bats, and I’m so tempted to look at the numbers.”

How has the National Pitching Association helped you?: “The NPA family is great. It doesn’t matter who you reach out to. Somebody is going to help. Everybody wants to help so it seems like you have a new family. Between Tom (House), Marques (Clark), Justin (Courtney), Danny (Camarena), Robert (Ambrose), and Todd (Starowitz), I’ve gained a lot of people that I can go to at any time for anything, whether it’s baseball or not. The baseball is very helpful, but I feel like I have a lot of lifelong friendships that have come from NPA.”

 What makes Tom House unique?: “What doesn’t make Tom unique? As soon as I get to a regular workout, sit down with him, and go through a lecture, I learn something new about the world, baseball, Tom, seventies pop culture, and more. Tom can give you the same lecture about nutrition four times in an offseason and I take something new from it every single time, or I’ll hear a story for the fourth time that will make something stick better. We’ll have coordinators who will ask me about Tom, and I’ll tell them that what makes Tom special is that he’s the best teacher I’ve ever had. He finds a way to get through to anyone’s individual learning style and make it stick.”