Ffour years ago, when Matt Kutler ’04 decided to continue his education—and his budding baseball career—at Brown, he received more than a few puzzled looks from his friends at Millard North High in Omaha, Nebraska. Coming out of high school, Kutler says, he never really thought about going to an Ivy League school. He imagined he’d end up at Nebraska, Creighton, or Kansas. Most of his buddies didn’t have a clue where Brown was, he recalls with a laugh: “They knew it was somewhere East.”
Although the people of West St. Paul, Minnesota, may have heard more about Brown than the good people of Omaha, Bobby Deeb ’04 is another Midwestern boy who did not expect his baseball ambitions to take him to the East Side of Providence. But like Kutler, Deeb is an example of the kind of quality player who regularly falls through the recruiting cracks of the major baseball powers. And luckily for Brown, coach Marek Drabinski is right there waiting to catch them when they land. He first saw Deeb at a showcase camp in Fork Union, Virginia, during the summer of 1999, and went away impressed by the young man’s speed and quick hands, as well as his leadership skills among teammates he barely knew. Kutler popped up on Drabinski’s radar screen that same summer, when then–assistant coach J.J. Koning watched the lanky left-handed batter hit everything in sight at a showcase camp at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
Kutler and Deeb have been impact starters since their 2001 freshman season, playing virtually every inning of every game, Deeb at second base, Kutler in the outfield. “Coach promised he’d play the best nine players, regardless of their class,” Kutler recalls. “He was true to his word.” Each has earned national, New England, and Ivy League honors, and each is on track to insert his name at the top of several categories in the Brown baseball record book. “I’m extremely happy with my decision,” says Kutler, an economics concentrator who with Deeb is beginning his second season as captain of the Bears. “Coming to Brown gave me a chance to play right away. Going to a more nationally known baseball school, you might not play until your junior year.” Deeb, a terrific student who last spring was named to the Verizon Academic All District first team for his 3.2 grade point average in engineering, agrees: “As much as I would have liked to have played for a big Division I school, I don’t think I would have played all four years like I’ve done here.”
And although College Hill is not always a regular stop for major-league baseball scouts, Kutler and Deeb have more than made up for this by spending their summers playing in places that are. Each, in fact, has been named Most Valuable Player of the playoffs in two of the country’s most respected collegiate summer baseball leagues: the Cape Cod League and the North Carolina–based Coastal Plain League. Kutler was the Cape’s playoff MVP in 2002 after his game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth inning carried Wareham past Orleans for a 2–0 series sweep. In five playoff games, Kutler hit .350 with nine RBI and seven hits, two of them game-winners.
Deeb, meanwhile, was the Coastal Plain League MVP just this past summer, when, playing for the Outer Banks Daredevils, he went six-for-twelve in the league playoffs, with four RBI and three runs scored. He started in forty-two of the Daredevils’ forty-three games during the course of the summer, batting .322 and scoring thirty-two runs. “Coming from an Ivy school, which is not necessarily the most respected baseball league,” Deeb says, “and going up against kids from big schools and putting up some competitive numbers—it’s a confidence builder.” Drabinski is confident that, given their summer-league exposure and their performance while at Brown, both Kutler and Deeb will get their chance to turn pro. “Both of them will be drafted,” he says. “There’s no question both of them will be playing pro ball next summer.”
First comes one last chance to capture a conference title for Brown, something that hasn’t happened in fifty-two years. Kutler and Deeb (along with power-hitting right fielder and cocaptain James Lowe ’05) are determined to bounce back from last year’s 8–12 Ivy record (18–28 overall) and regain the winning ways of Kutler’s and Deeb’s freshman and sophomore years, when the Bears lost to Dartmouth and Harvard, respectively, in one-game playoffs for the Rolfe Division title. This spring, Drabinski says that, even with Kutler and Deeb as the only senior position players, “one through nine, this is the most talented lineup since I’ve been here. If our pitchers learn to pitch and not just throw, we’ve got a chance to be very good.”
Deeb, who at five feet, ten inches has muscled out from 155 pounds in 2001 to 180 today, has started at second base and hit either leadoff or second since game one of his freshman year. He is the regular table-setter for the six-foot, one-inch, 185-pound Kutler, who bats third. Deeb set Brown and Ivy League rookie records during his freshman year with sixty-three hits, and his .404 batting average that season marked the first time a rookie Bear hit over .400. He also tied for the team lead in runs scored, with forty-two, was named to the All-Ivy, first-team and was selected as a freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball. Kutler, meanwhile, set Brown records with three five-hit games that year and by cracking four doubles in one game. He also led Brown in doubles (fifteen) and triples (four) and put up the team’s fourth-highest batting average (.326), all en route to being named the University’s top freshman male athlete of 2001.
Neither Kutler nor Deeb has slowed down since. Kutler was a first-team All-Ivy selection in each of the last two seasons, and he may this year become Brown’s first three-time first-team All-Ivy pick. Last spring, while earning first-team All-New England honors, he batted a team-high .369, good enough for fifth in the Ivies, and led the league in hits (sixty-six) and RBI (forty-four). Going into this season, Kutler’s career batting average of .351 is eighth all-time at Brown. Already the Bears’ career leader in triples (thirteen), he is well within striking distance of becoming the university’s all-time leader in games played, at-bats, hits, doubles, extra base hits, and RBI. The RBI record will likely fall first: Kutler enters 2004 just one behind Shaun Gallagher ’02, who graduated with 124.
Deeb, a second-team All-Ivy pick during the past two years and a second-team All-New England pick last spring, led the Ivies last year in runs scored (forty-four) and was second in both total bases (ninety-three) and stolen bases (twenty-two). His .360 batting average was second only to Kutler on the Bears, and his career average of .356 is fifth-best in school history. Deeb, like Kutler, is within hailing distance of becoming Brown’s all-time leader in games played, at-bats, and hits. He is also just eight runs away from becoming the school’s career leader in runs scored, a record currently held by his predecessor at second base, Jeff Lawler ’00, who scored 140 runs.
“I think what those guys have is that neither one of them is intimidated by anyone or any opponent,” says Drabinski, who will surely be sorry to see them walk through the Van Wickle Gates in May. “It’s been that way since their freshman years. Those two are special.”