The pitcher exhales, throws her arm back, then whips it around to send the bright green ball hurtling toward Brown.
She swings and connects, sending the ball soaring into right field. There’s nothing spectacular about the hit, except for the fact that it keeps on floating high in the air, finally dropping on the opposite side of the fence for Brown’s second home run of the day.
She made it look easy.
Brown has a knack for knocking the ball out of the park. She holds the New York high school record for most home runs in a season and hit 11 home runs her freshman year, earning the nickname “Downtown Kristen Brown” from Papa’s brother. So far this season, Brown has recorded 11 home runs with 14 games to go in the regular season.
Her contributions go beyond home runs, though. Papa calls Brown one of her run producers. She has 38 RBIs on 38 hits. Whenever she hits the ball, UNC is scoring.
But Brown’s not just a one-dimensional player.
She’s also a standout defensive player at shortstop, helping anchor a UNC defense ranked in the top half of the ACC in most categories.
“She makes some plays that other people can’t make,” Papa said.
Despite the records, the home runs and the nickname, Brown remains humble.
She’s modest about her talent and is hesitant to talk too much about herself, preferring instead to talk about the team as a whole. She smiles and blushes a little under her freckles when the “Downtown” nickname is brought up and says it just shows how much confidence her teammates have in her.
But she certainly doesn’t lack confidence in her own abilities. It’s apparent whenever she steps up to bat that she knows what she is capable of and trusts in her own ability to make a play. She writes “K.I.S.S.” on her wrist as a reminder to keep it simple and stay positive when she’s batting.
“You don’t really think about hitting a home run, you go up there, see the pitch, swing at it, and it ends up going out of the park,” Brown said. “I just tell myself to slow it down, trust my hands and see the ball and hit the ball.”
This familiarity with her ability comes from a lifetime of practice. She grew up playing whiffle ball with her grandfather in his front lawn and says she has loved softball ever since. She still has friends on other teams that she played with on travel teams and now plays against, like Notre Dame’s Megan Sorlie and Penn State’s Macy Jones.
Coincidentally, they all wear No. 12.
She has formed a close bond with her teammates at UNC as well and calls them her family.
After her second home run, she dove headfirst into a throng of her teammates celebrating at home plate, who caught her in their arms and sprung her back to her feet. During the game, she periodically walks over to teammates to give them a high five or a few words of encouragement.
Despite being only a sophomore, her leadership and presence on the field is apparent. She is a part of the Richard A. Baddour Carolina Leadership Academy and is active with Carolina Outreach. She is also a UNC representative for the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, which allows student-athlete input into administrative decisions.
As the 2012 Gatorade Player of the Year in New York, Brown was heavily recruited. But after visiting UNC, she knew exactly where she needed to be.
“As soon as I set foot on the campus, I loved it,” Brown said. “You kind of just get that feeling, you know this is the place.”
Brown said she loves every single part of being a Tar Heel. She raves about the exemplary academic reputation of the school, about the softball program she’s become such a huge part of, the “Carolina atmosphere” and especially about the unique shade of blue on her uniform, gloves and helmet that matches the sky she sends the ball flying into.
“Everyone loves Carolina blue,” she says.
During the season when she’s not in uniform or swinging a bat — which isn’t often — Brown says she likes to relax with her teammates and listen to music. Her favorite band is The Script, and she loves to go to concerts.
But on breaks, Brown goes off script.
A self-described adventurer, Brown has snowboarded down mountains and escaped a reef shark on a dive in the Caribbean. She likes being spontaneous. Next on her list is sky-diving, although that will probably come after her softball career is over. She’ll likely hold off on hitting the slopes again, too, after an ACL tear in high school.
Her adventurous and spontaneous side contrast with her personality at the plate, where she is patient and methodical. She’s a steadying presence at the plate, in the field and on the team.
And for the next two years while she’s here, the Tar Heels hope to hear plenty more cracks of bat on ball.
Downtown Kristen Brown strikes again.