Brandon Weeden’s baseball epiphany came in June 2006, when he realized it was time to give up.
The stark reality almost hit him in the form of a barrel of a broken bat that came dangerously close as the ball sailed over the fence for a home run.
“That’s for the birds,” Weeden said.
That night, the future Browns franchise quarterback was pitching for the High Desert Mavericks, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals in the California League. A second-round pick of the New York Yankees in 2002, the 6-foot-3½ right-hander was with his third organization, including a stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His fastball clocked 91-to-97-mph on the radar gun, but he didn’t have the three pitches required to get out of A ball. His baseball fortunes were sinking, and his ERA was rising.
He was on the mound for the Mavericks in Adelanto, Calif., north of San Bernadino off Interstate-15, where Weeden said the wind always blew out to right center at 55 mph.
“It was the worst experience of my life,” Weeden recalled Friday. “I gave up three broken-bat home runs and my ERA was something astronomical, like 5.6. I said, ‘It’s not going to happen. I’m not going to make it.’
“I didn’t want to be a guy who spent 10 years in the minor leagues. I threw hard; I was blessed with a strong arm. You could throw 107 and they’re still going to hit it. Those guys you see throwing every night have all three pitches. I didn’t.”
Weeden came home and told his now-wife Melanie that he was thinking about going back to play college football.
“She said, ‘Are you crazy?’?” he said. “I’m like, ‘Naw, absolutely not, let’s do it.’?”
Nearly six years later, the Browns are anointing the Oklahoma State quarterback who turns 29 on Oct. 14 as the 11th different opening-day starter in their 14-year reincarnation.
On Thursday, the Browns nabbed Weeden with the 22nd overall pick, spelling the end of the Colt McCoy era that lasted only 21 games in two seasons. They revamped their offense with Weeden and Alabama running back Trent Richardson, whom they traded up one spot to get.
Already a leader
Browns coach Pat Shurmur made no secret of the Browns’ intentions for Weeden on Thursday night, even as he seemed to send a shot at McCoy’s father, Brad, with his comment, “In terms of a physical nature, a quarterback does have to be able to take a little bit of a pounding.”
Asked how Weeden would help the point-starved team score touchdowns, Shurmur said, “If we don’t hand it to Trent, then we are going to have Brandon throw it in there.”
After Weeden met the media Friday, there seemed little doubt about Weeden’s maturity or his ability to command a news conference.
“Fire away,” Weeden said, wasting no time after the obligatory jersey presentations.
Of more pressing concern is how Weeden is going to lead a team that has made only one playoff appearance since 1999 and make the transition from a spread offense.
It appears the leadership part will be easy. Weeden was friendly and patient, answering the umpteenth question about his age and delayed football career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he was the oldest player to be picked in the first round of the common draft era.
Shurmur said when the Browns evaluated Weeden, they all became “very fond” of him, which included owner Randy Lerner (a dead ringer for Weeden), president Mike Holmgren and General Manager Tom Heckert.
The Browns are smitten and not in the least bit concerned about Weeden’s decision to pursue baseball first, even as he said he always threw a football in the offseason to build his arm strength.
“My senior year I was one of the better players coming out of Oklahoma,” said Weeden, an Oklahoma City native and Edmond resident. “To have the opportunity to be the first pick of the New York Yankees, with the opportunity to go back to school and they pay for it, it’s too much as an 18-year-old kid to pass up.
“I wouldn’t change my decision. I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done. I think everything happens for a reason. It’s kind of funny how things work out. I’m blessed to be where I am right now.”
Will he be saying that in December, when it’s snowing and the wind is whipping off Lake Erie and he’s trying to get the ball to Greg Little?
“You ever been to Oklahoma? Whew! Oklahoma is a windy place,” Weeden said. “I’ve heard the wind swirls in the stadium. What it all comes down to is throwing a tight spiral and not allowing the wind to affect your ball.
“We played at Texas Tech this year and we had wind gusts of 80. There was stuff on the field and it was crazy, but I think it was one of my best throwing games of the year as far as accuracy. If you start thinking about it, you’re in trouble. It helps to put a little extra mustard on it here and there.”
After his unusual journey, Weeden feels he’s where he belongs, selected by the team he wanted to play for. For a Browns fan base tired of quarterbacks who didn’t budge the needle on the “bigger, stronger, faster” barometer, Weeden’s 97-mph fastballs should be a treat indeed.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at https://ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.