Brooks' Lofty Position Is Story Of DedicationPosted on January 12, 2010
By Keith Mills
He remembers the first player he scouted and drafted to the big leagues -- Adam Stern, who would eventually play briefly with the Orioles.
He remembers the day he went back to his former school, North County High in Ferndale, to talk to the football team about setting goals and using every possible resource to accomplish them.
And he remembers the November night in 1989 when he scored his first and only touchdown on the high school football field, against his archrival.
Brooks is now director of baseball operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he is living proof, a walking advertisement, for setting a career path and finding a way to make it happen.
"I've been really fortunate," said Brooks, who joined the Pirates in December after spending 11 years with the Braves and three with the Cleveland Indians. "I've learned a lot from some really good, smart people and have tried to take advantage of every opportunity I got. I feel like I've been blessed."
Brooks grew up in the Cedar Hill area of Anne Arundel County. He originally went to Andover High School but was in the first group of students to attend nearby North County, a refurbished middle school located in Ferndale, after Andover and Brooklyn Park high schools merged in 1990. Brooks was a member of North County's first graduating class in 1991.
"It was strange," said Brooks, "because kids I was playing against at Brooklyn Park in baseball and football, I was teammates with at North County. But we made do, and it ended up being a positive experience for me."
Brooks played baseball and football for coach Don Usewick at Andover. An inside linebacker, Brooks was moved to running back when a group of fellow African-American athletes quit the team in protest after a black athlete was kicked off for violating a team rule. Brooks stayed and scored his first and only career touchdown in the season finale in 1989 against neighborhood rival Brooklyn Park.
"I'll never forget it," said Brooks. "The only reason I was playing running back was because all the guys on the team quit. It was really a tough time for me. I grew up with all of those guys but felt I needed to stay. I felt strongly about it then, and looking back, I think I made the right move."
Andover won that game when Jason Schnuit, thrust into the quarterback position because the starter quit the team, connected with tight end Greg Justice for the winning touchdown. Schnuit is now an actor in Hollywood. Justice went on to play football at Delaware and is now general manager of the Baltimore Mariners of the American Indoor Football Association.
One year later Brooks was starting at inside linebacker for coach Chuck Markiewicz at North County with Anthony Walker, a member of Brooklyn Park's team the year before and one of the area's best players.
Brooks also played baseball at North County for Usewick and coach Al Pindell, who became a friend and mentor.
It was the continuation of a love for baseball that began when Brooks was 7 years old, playing at the 10th Avenue baseball complex in Brooklyn Park. His coach on the Brooklyn Park Amoco Orioles was Tony Leone Jr., whose father, Tony Sr., sponsored the famous Leone's amateur baseball team run by Orioles scout Walter Youse and future Arundel High coach Bernie Walter.
Brooks played in that Brooklyn Park Little League program for Leone Jr. for five years, cultivating a love for the game that followed him through high school and then to the University of Maryland.
Though he didn't play baseball at Maryland, Brooks graduated in 1996 with degrees in marketing and accounting and an affection for photography. His long-held passion for baseball landed him a coveted internship with the Atlanta Braves.
"I was always taking pictures down at Maryland," said Brooks. "I would shoot a lot of the football and baseball games. I just loved being around the guys. I found out about this program in Atlanta with the Braves and included a bunch of my pictures with my resume. I got a call and I was fortunate enough to get the job."
The program was called the Career Initiatives Training Program, a minority-based, entry-level program created by Stan Kasten, then president of the Atlanta Braves, and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. Brooks was the first person the Braves hired.
"I'm grateful the Braves had a plan," said Brooks. "Stan Kasten, Hank Aaron, John Schuerholz -- are you kidding? I met all of those guys, worked for them. They allowed me to grow. I came in as an intern at the administrative level, then got more and more into the baseball and scouting side of things."
Three years into his job as baseball operations assistant, Brooks was called into Schuerholz's office. Schuerholz grew up in Baltimore, graduated from City College and Towson State University, and worked for the Orioles under general managers Lee MacPhail and Harry Dalton.
"I'll never forget it," said Brooks. "It was July 4 and John Schuerholz brought me in and told me everybody with the Braves says I've done a great job. Would I be interested in joining them full time? I said I would love to. I went back and told my dad and there were tears in his eyes."
Jerry Brooks, Tyrone's father, also went to Andover High. He graduated in 1966 with future major league Gold Glover, New York first baseman Jim Spencer, and now lives in Gaithersburg.
The younger Brooks now lives in Pittsburgh with wife Stephanie and their one-month-old daughter Olivia, born Dec. 4, just a few weeks after their move from San Francisco.
Three years ago, Brooks was working as the Braves assistant director of player personnel and as an area scouting supervisor when he received a call from Mark Shapiro, general manager of the Cleveland Indians. Like Brooks and Schuerholz, Shapiro is a native Baltimorean. He played football and baseball at Gilman and is the son of Baltimore attorney Ron Shapiro.
"We're all from Baltimore," said Brooks. "I don't know if that's a coincidence or not. But I'll take it."
Shapiro's call came after Brooks spent three years living in Kansas City as a Midwest scout for the Braves. Of the hundreds of amateur players Brooks scouted, the first to make the big leagues was Stern, a native of Ontario, Canada, who was playing then at the University of Nebraska.
"That was a big thrill when he made the big leagues," Brooks said of the outfielder who spent two years with the Red Sox and part of 2007 with the Orioles. "I'll never forget the opportunity the Braves gave me. I was fortunate when I got hired. I didn't know anybody in baseball. I thought if I got in the door I would be able to do the job and I would prove myself. They opened the door for me and gave me the chance, and I will never forget it."
With the Indians, Brooks scouted professional teams for the last three years, living in San Francisco and covering the Pacific Coast League as well as the California and Texas Leagues. He also networked himself among former employees with the Braves and the rest of Major League Baseball.
In 2007 Brooks received a call from Frank Wren, who stepped in as Braves general manager when Schuerholz retired.
"Frank called me to interview for the assistant GM job," said Brooks, who also helped design a Web site for MLB to assist other young professionals in landing entry-level administrative jobs. "It came down to me and Bruce Manno, who also spent some time with the Orioles. Bruce got it over me, but I was flattered just to be considered."
Next he spoke with Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, who Brooks met when the two worked for the Indians. Eventually, Huntington offered him the job as Pittsburgh's director of baseball operations.
It continues an interesting odyssey that included wonderful experiences at both Andover and North County, playing for coaches such as Usewick, Pindell, Markiewicz, Brad Wilson and Mike Francis, and with teammates such as Walker, Schnuit, Justice and many others.
In August 2006, when Brooks was pondering Shapiro's job offer and a move from the Braves to the Indians, he returned to his roots -- North County High -- for some guidance.
"I went back to talk to some people there that I really had a lot of respect for," said Brooks. "I ended up talking to the football team during two-a-days. It may have been the best talk I ever gave. I just told them to leave everything they had on the field and take advantage of every resource they had -- teachers, coaches, parents, everything.
"I told them their coaches were always putting their players in positions for a reason, usually so they can have success. I told them to take advantage of educational opportunities when they come up. I didn't have the most ability as a player. I could have played at a small college, but I decided to go to Maryland for academic reasons. It turned out to be a great decision."
And now he will try and help turn around a Pirates organization that has not had a winning season in 17 years.
"It won't be easy," said Brooks, "but we have some really good people working here to try and make it happen. I think we will."
Issue 145: January 2010