Fontello Brown was more than just a father to Grant Brown.
He was also his son’s No. 1 fan.
“And my best friend,” the Tulane outfielder said.
So Brown knows his dad would have been all smiles if he were sitting in the stands at Swayze Field on Friday to watch the Green Wave play Boston College in the opener of the Oxford, Mississippi, regional.
“He’d be very proud,” Brown said. “He always supported me in everything.”
Fontello Brown won’t be there physically, but he’ll be there in spirit, fresh on the minds of the Green Wave players.
He lost his battle with cancer May 21, the same day the Green Wave captured the American Athletic Conference regular-season title with a road win over Houston.
Brown, a redshirt sophomore, got the news on the bus ride home.
“I was excited, but of course all of that went out the drain when I got the call,” Brown said.
A celebration of the school’s first conference championship since 2005, all of a sudden, was halted.
Shortstop Stephen Alemais, Brown’s closest friend on the team, was sitting beside Brown when the call came.
“You could see his face change, and I knew something was wrong,” Alemais recalled. “So you had two sets of emotions. You had the very high of winning the conference one minute, and then he gets the call the next. It was tough. He’s one of our brothers. So to have something like that happen, it brought the team even closer.”
It’s why the Tulane players will wear black rubber bracelets with the words “Fontello Brown” on them during this weekend’s regional. They also wore the bracelets last week in the AAC tournament.
Their teammate missed the tournament to attend his father’s funeral. He kept up with the tournament as best he could and rejoined his teammates Monday as they watched ESPN to find out which regional they would be going to. Brown, who has started 19 games this season, said he’s glad to be back.
And the team is glad to have him back.
“It’s real tough for him and real tough for our team,” Tulane coach David Pierce said. “But we’re happy he’s back with us. This is kinda his sanctuary right now, too.”
Baseball has always been Brown’s sanctuary. It’s where he and his father spent hours upon hours fine-tuning his skills as a kid growing up in Gulfport, Mississippi.
“Growing up, that’s all we did,” Brown said.
Fontello Brown was a regular at Tulane games since his son arrived for the 2014 season. Former Tulane assistant Jake Gautreau recruited Brown and knew his dad well.
“A lot of times, people die and people say nice things about them. But I’m not saying these things because Fontello is gone; I’m saying them because it’s the truth,” Gautreau said. “He was one of the best men I’ve ever met. He was a great father, just a great man who raised a great man.”
Alemais said Fontello Brown was like a second father to him, helping him as soon as he arrived in New Orleans.
His death has brought the team even closer and helped teach life lessons.
“It just really puts things in perspective,” pitcher Emerson Gibbs said. “It made us realize that baseball is just a game. It makes you realize there is more to life than just baseball.”
Brown’s teammates expect him to bounce back just fine.
“He’s been through a lot the last couple of years with his injury and now his dad,” Alemais said. “But he’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever been around in my life, so he’ll be fine. He’s definitely the strongest person I know.”
Brown has had to bounce back from adversity before. He underwent surgery after injuring after his shoulder diving for a ball last season, ending his true sophomore season after 11 games. He’s still trying to find his groove. He’s batting just .171 to go with his four doubles, three home runs and 11 RBIs.
But those life lessons from Fontello Brown should help … both on the field and off.
“He always talked to me about just staying focused,” Brown said. “He taught me that baseball is kinda like life. It has its ups and downs. It’s going to get hard sometimes, but you just have to keep pushing through.”