Brian Middleton: The pitcher with the mullet
By Noah Westerhuis – Photo by Brad Bakke
Every crisp Monday morning at precisely 5:55 a.m., you can find him heading toward Chemeketa’s weight room.
Brian Middleton rarely misses a break-of-dawn lift in the Bat Cave, as the players call the weight room – unless, of course, he’s studying.
Middleton is one of the devoted few.
“I love baseball,” he says. “I love working out. I love creating a brotherhood. And I love getting better before my opponents have even thought about waking up. I love Storm baseball.”
With brown, gleaming hair that runs past his shoulders and a short, stalky frame, Middleton has made his presence known at Chemeketa – in the classroom, in the weight room, and on the ball field.
Middleton is a sophomore southpaw pitcher who came to Chemeketa from a small 4A high school in Winston, Oregon.
Fellow players, as well as the coaching staff, attest to Middleton’s commitment and leadership.
Brock Koone, a longtime friend and a first-year pitcher with the Storm, says, “To be the best, you have to act like you’re the best, and Brian’s focus and intent says he is the best.”
Koone and Middleton grew up together in the same town and have played ball together for years.
With his chest out and his back straight, Middleton stands 5-foot, 7-inches.
His height may not catch your attention, and even his bulky shoulders and biceps may elude some. But his work ethic, motivation – and that hair – will collect most people’s attention.
Koone’s take on his friend’s mullet?
“It’s nasty, and it’s Brian. The mullet that he rocks to school and baseball every day is his pride and joy. Just like a mullet – business in the front and party in the back – Middleton can be goofy and weird. But when it’s time to dial in, he locks in.”
Pitching coach Demetre Kokoris has worked with Middleton since his arrival to Salem in September of 2012.
His initial assessment is eye-opening.
“Middleton won’t necessarily catch everyone’s eye in the baseball world. He is pretty short for a college pitcher, and his stuff isn’t exactly dominating. He tends to point out what fellow teammates are doing wrong without giving them much about what they are doing right. But his expectation for the guys is high. And if they don’t deliver, he might have a bit of a temper with them,” Kokoris says.
“The thing that erases all of the minor hiccups this kid has is his work ethic and the drive to be the best he can be. He holds himself accountable and never makes excuses.”
Kokoris adds one other newsworthy item in Middleton’s favor: “The guy gets people out.”
Middleton’s week consists of four early mornings in the Bat Cave, two conditioning sessions a week after early weights, and six practices a week.
“I’ve had this same routine, with small modifications, since the fall of my freshman year of college,” he says.
With the baseball season under way, the Storm’s schedule replaced Friday and Saturday winter term practices with double-headers.
Chemeketa is scheduled for 44 baseball games this spring; the players, Middleton included, have high hopes.
“This year we hope is different from last year,” he says, referencing a disappointing end to the season a year ago. “We have the talent to be good and the leadership to be great. We missed going to our leagues playoffs by only a few games last year. And I know that with the chemistry and talent our team possesses this year, we will show a strong improvement.”
The leadership comes not just from the coaches but from the players as well, and Middleton plays a big role in providing that leadership: on the field, in the weight room, in the classroom.
Koone says, “Brian is a great guy to set our goals around. The goal this year is to make the playoffs and improve on last season. Brian’s demeanor makes the entire team better, and his drive for excellence pushes other guys to work harder.
“I can see most of the freshman using him as guide, including myself, and that shows the impact that Middleton has.”
How does all of that tie in with the mullet?
He’s been waiting for the question.
“This is me,” he says. “I look more mature and intimidating with it. I don’t have the size that everyone expects a lefty pitcher to have, especially in college, but I do have something most players don’t have: a mullet.”
“When people see me on the mound, I want them to take a double look. I want them talking about my hair and focused on something irrelevant to baseball. If they are intrigued by my hair, I’ve already gone ahead in the count.”
Laughing, Middleton ends the interview.
“And this mullet. Look at it. I look dang good!”