Suzanne Brown understands well that Coach Cliff Godwin keeps a busy schedule during the baseball season. In the four years her son Turner has played for East Carolina, she has never missed a home game and has come to appreciate how hard Godwin works.
But judging from his attentiveness to Turner and their family since January 22, when the family’s Whiteville home was destroyed by a fire, you would think that Godwin’s only priority is making sure they have what they need through the recovery.
“He still checks on us: ‘Are y’all OK?’ ‘Is Turner OK?’ ‘Is there anything we can do for you?’” Suzanne Brown said. “He doesn’t get the credit he deserves, because he loves those boys. He has to be rough and tough when it comes to ball, but when it comes to them personally he just loves those boys. Throughout the whole process, he has kept in touch with us and he made sure that we knew that Turner was OK.”
Godwin’s thoughtfulness has been just one generous gesture representing the safety net the Pirate Nation put up under the Brown family after the tragedy, which happened just three weeks before the opening game of Brown’s senior season. It took nine fire departments six hours to get the blaze at the Browns’ home under control that day, but in the past three months countless Pirate fans have done everything they can to counter that destruction with financial support, encouragement and prayers.
Suzanne Brown has received cards and letters from Pirate fans she hardly knows, like the woman she met in the jungle one time last spring who felt compelled to reach out. A GoFundMe set up by the Browns’ church, where Turner’s father and Suzanne’s husband Chris is the music minister, prompted donations from every corner of the Pirate Nation. Some of the players who have shown support only played with Turner during his freshman season, but they have made it clear that the family ties in ECU country run deep.
“We were just blown away by the responses we got, from people we have no idea who we are,” she said. “It’s just that they are Pirates. “I’ve always thrown it out there lightly that baseball is family, but this experience has truly put the words into motion.”
Brown was in the batting cages that day when teammate Trey Benton came and told him to call his parents immediately. He talked with his parents about the possibility of coming home, but they were adamant that he should stay in Greenville and pour his heart into a senior season that he anticipated even more eagerly after seeing limited time last year with a shoulder injury.
Throughout his family’s ordeal, Brown said, he has been buoyed time and again by his parents’ faith, perspective and courage, even as they have been the ones on the frontlines dealing with insurance companies, trying to replace belongings and overseeing the construction of a new house on the lot where the old one, Turner’s childhood home, once stood.
“I was almost taken aback at how positive they’ve been through the whole experience,” he said. “They’re the ones that are really affected, but they’ve been so positive and taking it in stride, and it’s helped me become more positive and not take anything for granted. Everything happens for a reason, and I really believe that God had a purpose for it, and I think the biggest thing is to help us grow as a family. That’s been a huge thing for us, is keeping our faith, not questioning why it happened and believing that there’s a purpose for it.”
With eight hits in the past nine games, Brown has been steady on offense and an infield leader at shortstop.
Junior pitcher Jake Agnos said that his teammate has been an inspiration to the other Pirates in the way he has thrived despite more than one type of adversity.
“I think his numbers are just a reflection of the hard work he puts in, and that reflects the kind of person he is,” Agnos said. “He’s an awesome leader, you always love him behind you as the king of the infield.”
In the home stretch of the conference season, Brown is focusing on baseball and grabbing opportunities to connect with his family whenever possible. Over Easter weekend Brown, his parents, his sister Chelsea and her family met at the site of their old — and future — house and marked the moment in time with a reminder of the promise ahead.
“We took a picture at the spot where our house was, we’re rebuilding there. We took a picture, kind of like a timeline of making new memories,” he said. “So that’s kind of been our motto, making new memories. The house is just a building, and what is the best thing is we still have my family, my family’s safe, and we can still go make memories as a family somewhere else.”
Brown is grateful to have family in two cities — in Whiteville and in Pirate Country. He echoes his mom’s sentiments about the tremendous support the ECU community has offered, and the Brown family is confident that they will maintain their Pirate ties long after Turner graduates.
“This is my family,” he said. “Greenville has become a home for me, and I’ll forever be grateful. I’ll always be a Pirate.”