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A strong academic performer who takes a tough-as-nails approach on the field doesn’t come around every day.
But Fike High senior Garrett Browder isn’t your average student or baseball player.
The owner of a 4.3125 grade-point average, Browder experienced flu-like symptoms during the 2018 Golden Leaf Invitational, on a day where the Golden Demons were scheduled to play a day-night doubleheader.
“We had all intentions of not letting him play that Saturday,” Fike head coach Buck Edmundson said. “We had a game earlier in the day, and then a game later that night. We had already made a plan to go without him that day, but you couldn’t keep him from catching.”
He played in a 13-1 win over Rocky Mount Academy, taking fluids and resting before the nightcap against Parrott Academy. There, Browder caught again and helped Fike to a 6-2 victory. It was part of a 21-5 season for Fike, where the Demons completed an unbeaten run through the 3-A Big East Conference.
“The love that we had for each other is what got us where we were,” Browder said. “The way I love those guys, and how much I wanted the team to succeed — we didn’t have selfish players. I just cared about those guys so much that I wanted to fight for them. Especially the seniors. I felt like they were relying on me just as much as I relied on them.”
Browder, also a member of the National Honor Society, put pen to paper Tuesday during an informal ceremony and signed a National Letter of Intent to continue both his academic and baseball careers at NCAA Division I Davidson College. He chose the Wildcats over interest from Virginia Military Institute and the United States Naval Academy.
“I had always dreamed of playing Division I baseball, but the biggest thing my parents always instilled in me was my education,” Browder said. “And with Davidson, me being able to play Division I baseball and get a good education was just something that I couldn’t let down.”
Even before Browder arrived at Fike from Hunt to take advantage of the Wilson County Schools International Baccalaureate program, fate had already intertwined the family with the Demons. As Fike head coach Buck Edmundson awaited the birth of his child, Garrett’s mother, Amy, helped deliver the baby.
“From day 1, he came in and he was such a high academic kid,” Edmundson said. “I didn’t know him all that well, but it didn’t take long to know how good of a person he was. His character, he was such a good guy and a good family. But from a baseball standpoint, which is where I grew to know him, he’s one of the tougher kids. Really smart behind the plate, and he and I connected well. He knew what I was thinking without me even signing it.”
As a junior, Browder hit at a .340 clip with 22 RBIs, seven doubles and three home runs. His .479 on-base percentage was boosted by nine walks and 16 hit by pitches. But as an adept blocker on breaking pitches and errant deliveries, Browder fielded his position behind the plate at a .990 clip.
“In baseball, your bat is going to leave you,” Browder said. “They’re still going to expect you as a captain and a leader, with that being the captain of the team behind the plate, I need to stay tough, no matter what’s happening around me, and really lead the team.”
The son of Mike and Amy Browder of Kenly plans to major in economics and mathematics in the hopes of becoming an accountant.
“My dad got me in the gym in sixth grade before middle school,” Browder recalled. “Getting up, you’re going to go to the gym. And it was just something that over time, first it’s tough, but it’s just something that lights a fire inside of you that eventually, it’s what you want to do. It’s beyond somebody making you do it.”
Davidson of the Atlantic 10 Conference, two years removed from a memorable run to an NCAA Super Regional, finished 33-21 last season under first-year head coach Rucker Taylor.
“I just can’t get complacent,” Browder said. “There is such elite talent (in Division I), and there’s going to be times in baseball, just like in life, when you struggle. Keeping a strong mindset and always working hard, no matter what’s going on, is the biggest thing that I’m trying to focus on, for sure.”