Warming up alongside Mike Schmidt and Ozzie Smith at the
Astrodome before the 1986 All-Star game, Chris Brown figured he'd
play forever. Big, strong and full of pop and promise, he was a
He doubled and scored the National League's first run that
night, yet was out of baseball within a few years, done in by a
string of injuries that caused some teammates to question his
No one doubts him these days.
Brown is now smack in the middle of Iraq, surrounded by snipers,
mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. He chose this job -- driving,
inspecting and repairing 18-wheel fuel trucks for Halliburton Co.
"It's a place I would've never thought 20 years ago that I'd
be," the former third baseman said in a telephone interview this
Brown hopes to watch on satellite television Tuesday night when
the All-Star game returns to Houston. It comes on at 4 a.m. local
"I guess Rocket Roger Clemens might start. He started against
us in the All-Star game I played in," Brown said. "Back then, I
thought I'd be finishing up right around now, too."
Instead, he's spent 10 months mostly at military bases as a
"There's always a danger factor around us. I try not to worry
about it," he said. "I just take it day-by-day. The Lord will
take care of me."
In April, he was driving outside Baghdad when a convoy was
attacked behind him. The bodies of four employees of Kellogg Brown
& Root -- a Halliburton subsidiary -- were later found near the site
of the ambush. About 40 Halliburton workers have been killed since
the fighting began.
Another time, Brown was caught in a sandstorm in the desert and
barely escaped an AK-47 gunman at close range.
"I got a bullet or whatever in the windshield. I've been shot
at by mortars and RPGs," he said.
He hasn't driven for a couple of months. When he did, he wore a
helmet that was much different than the one he put on at the plate.
Brown was drafted by the San Francisco Giants right after his
Crenshaw High team with Darryl Strawberry lost the 1979 Los Angeles
city championship game to John Elway's school.
Brown was hitting .336, second in the NL, when he was picked to
play in the All-Star game at age 24. He replaced Schmidt to start
the sixth inning and doubled off Charlie Hough in the eighth.
In the ninth, Brown grounded into a game-ending double play
against Don Aase with runners at first and third in the NL's 3-2
"Just to know for one night you were there with the greatest
players in the world, that was really special," he said.
While playing for San Francisco, San Diego and Detroit from
1984-89, Brown never made it through a full season without getting
hurt. Dr. Frank Jobe operated on his shoulder, and his jaw was
broken by a fastball from Danny Cox in 1987.
There also was a string of nagging ailments, from an eye
infection to a serious toothache. Fittingly, the one time he led
the league in a category, it was in hit by pitches.
"Unfortunately, Chris had trouble staying healthy. No telling
how great he could have been, had he been able to avoid missing so
many games," Schmidt said.
"He's an everyday player now. I understand he's working in a
world few of us can relate to. A world where perseverance, heart
and courage are common traits. A world where there are no trainers,
whirlpools and rubdowns. Chris goes to work every day for 12 hours
a day, not dodging inside fastballs, but dodging real bullets,
mortars, and grenades."
At 42, Brown is not interested in proving anything about his
"I'm not going to compare what we do and baseball. We work
12-hour days. Today, I started at one base, now I'm at a second one
and our destination is a third base. It's about 130 degrees
outside, and I work every day," he said. "Every day."
Brown's main base is near Nasariyah, and only occasionally does
he think about his odd situation. Crossing the Kuwait border, he
recently remarked to a friend, "What are we doing over here?"
Yet Brown does not want anyone feeling sorry for him. He
finished his big league career with a .269 average, 38 home runs
and 184 RBIs, then went to work in construction.
He was operating a crane close to his home near Houston when
that position dried up. So he took a high-paying job at Halliburton
-- Brown did not disclose his salary -- for a year and is set to
return home Sept. 26.
Brown was back in the United States this month for a brief
vacation to visit his wife, two sons and daughter. He also got
together with his friend, three-time All-Star outfielder Eric
Davis, at the wedding of former big leaguer Paul Blair's son in
Brown talks to his wife daily, and keeps in contact with his
family by e-mail. By computer, he also still follows the majors. He
knew Clemens was pitching this weekend for the Astros and that
Philadelphia's Eric Milton was leading the NL in wins.
Someday, Brown would like to get back into baseball, perhaps as
a coach, scout or in the front office. He said he's sent letters in
the past, and that Oakland general manager Billy Beane contacted
"But I'd already taken the job," Brown said. "When I get
back, I want to get in touch with him. If I had something in
baseball guaranteed, I wouldn't come back over here."
He'll always have a spot waiting for him in Iraq.
"I don't go up to people and talk about my baseball past.
That's not me," he said. "But word has gotten around a bit, and
some of my co-workers know I was in the All-Star game. In fact, the
head of security just asked me to play on the softball team."