When Ben Brooks left Pope John Paul II High School in 2017, he thought he would pick up right where he left off when he got on campus at the University of Memphis.
Things quickly changed when Brooks realized he was no longer the best player on his team, a rude awakening for the kid who was always the top-dog on whatever team he played on.
Nearly all freshmen go through that feeling at some point during their first year on campus, whether getting adjusted to academic life, practices or simply waiting their turn to take the field. College ball is not for the faint of heart. Brooks quickly realized that if he wanted to contribute, he needed to accept the fact that he had to get better.
“At that point, I had yet to experience failure in baseball throughout my career,” Brooks recalled. “When I got on campus and realized I was not good enough to contribute on a major level every day, it was eye opening.”
Added Brooks: “Looking back now, that time was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. Throughout the summer, fall and winter, I started re-tooling my game and trying different things out to give me a better direction to go on the field.”
Brooks took a significant leap from his freshman year to sophomore year, starting all 55 games at second base for the Tigers. He hit .283 with 43 runs scored and 12 extra-base hits, including 10 doubles. Brooks finished the season with 20 RBI and turned in 16 multi-hit games. Defensively he committed just four errors in 103 attempts and recorded six three-hit games. Brooks added a season-best 13-game hitting streak March 7-29, tallying 22 hits. He connected on his first collegiate home run in the season finale against UCF on May 22.
“After the season, I just wanted more,” he said. “I did the same process that next offseason but on a bigger scale before my junior season.”
Brooks performance skyrocketed to start his third year on campus. He started all 17 games before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. Brooks batted .368 with 25 hits, 19 runs scored, six extra-base hits, 42 RBI and four home runs. He also posted a .978 fielding percentage.
Much like every other player across the country, Brooks and his teammates were confused when the shutdown occurred. Never being in a situation like this before, initial shock quickly turned into frustration.
“Many guys had great years, and seniors that were major contributors will never get to see how this season would have unfolded,” he said. “I thought we were destined for good things. We had promise early and were turning the corner and starting to get hot, and to see it end the way that it did (left) us all with questions.
“It was hard, but my next thought was if this year is over, then next year is the goal. This is not what we wanted, but there is nothing we can do about it now, so start preparing for next year.”
With campuses across the country closed, Brooks has had to get smart with his training at home. He is going back and doing things he did as a kid preparing for little league, and realizing the things he learned at age 9 and 10 has been beneficial to his game.
“It has been pretty innovative thinking,” Brooks said. “I do not have a field to practice on, so I am throwing balls off the wall for grounders, hitting the whiffle ball off the tee, and just doing things I did at a young age because this is the hand we were dealt. I try to be forward-thinking about my development as a player, and it has been fun to try different ways to improve.”
Confusion about the next year and beyond is real for athletes all across the country, and Brooks is no different. The unknown factor of when students will be allowed to resume being on campus to when programs are allowed to have a full practice with the entire team. However, Brooks notes that his full trust is in the Memphis Athletic Department and entire University.
“We know this will be handled the best way possible,” he said. “We do not know specifics yet, but I put all my trust in the school to make the right decision for all of us.”
Brooks will head into his senior season on track to graduate in December with a B.A. in Sports Management. He thanks his high school, Pope John Paul II, for setting a plan in place for him to enter college a semester early due to credits received as a Knight. With the extra year of eligibility, he plans to use that time to pursue a Masters Degree.
“This is a positive out of all the negative going around,” he added. “I am not sure what I want to do when baseball is over with, but I know I want to stay on the sports side of things.”
As a baseball player, Brooks is making strides to take his game to the next level. Although he is not focused on realizing a life-long dream of playing professional baseball. Instead, he focuses on winning now and helping the Tigers achieve the ultimate goal of winning the last game of the season.
“It is no secret I have always wanted to play pro baseball,” he said. “It is hard to do, but I am not focused on that. I do not want my mind to wander off to these things. I am focused on Memphis and how to be better as a team. It would be awesome to go play pro ball, but if I take care of what I can on my end and help my team win, the other stuff will take care of itself.”
During Brooks' career at Pope John Paul II, he was named 2017 Tennessee Mr. Baseball for Division II-AA. He also garnered Region Player of the Year for the second straight season his senior year and helped lead the Knights to three state tournament appearances. He batted .419 during his senior season.