Thinking athlete

Olympic baseball player Stephen Braun makes it look easy.

The simple scoop-and-throw to first base. The effortless swing from both sides of the plate. The 3.97 grade-point average in the classroom.

But as a basketball and baseball player who respects the title of “student-athlete,” Braun has realized he must be focused in his preparation.

And the results have shown.

“He’s come a long way from being a pimple-faced sophomore,” said Olympic baseball coach Nate Andrews, who also taught Braun in honors sophomore English and American Literature classes. “He has a natural understanding of how (the game) works.”

That understanding has led Braun to try new roles. He entered Olympic as a sophomore right-hand hitting shortstop. In two years, he has learned to hit left-handed and is a key pitcher for the Trojans.

The maturation as an athlete has come from hard work, which Braun said he developed growing up.

“I used to be home-schooled and I got a good work ethic from my parents,” Braun said.

The senior was home-schooled by his mother, Jean, until he entered the public-school system as a high school freshman.

“I’d been trying to get into school for a while,” Braun said. “My mom is smart, but I felt like I would get more (from going to high school).”

It didn’t take him long to make friends as a freshman.

“I met him in ninth grade through basketball,” teammate Robert Messing said. “We both were shooters and that’s what we were good at.”

Both played on the Olympic basketball team that almost qualified for the West Central District Tournament last season. The Trojans’ basketball team relied on Braun’s outside shooting prowess after playing five overtime games — most in the Narrows League Bridge Division. But even some heroics on the hardwood weren’t enough to shift Braun’s opinion on what his favorite sport is.

“Definitely baseball,” he said. “Part of it is because I’m better at baseball and I feel like I’m at home out here. There’s more thought that goes into it.”

That leads into Braun’s analytical nature. While some high school seniors haven’t even selected a college or other career path following graduation, Braun said he will attend Washington State University in the fall.

“I’m going to get a degree in science at Wazzu,” he said. “I’ve always been a math and science guy — that’s what I’m best at.”

Braun said selecting WSU wasn’t difficult.

“My dad went there, so I’ve always been a fan,” he said. “And there’s only three or four schools that offer ROTC.”

Braun said neither of his parents are in the military and he didn’t become interested in pursuing the field until recently.

“Earlier this year, I was leaning toward becoming a doctor but I didn’t really want to pay for it,” he said, adding that the military will assist him with tuition if he serves in the Navy for six years — three as an active member. “I won’t be out on the boats, I’ll be a nurse.”

For now, Braun will attempt to help the senior-laden Olympic team to the playoffs — something a similar group couldn’t accomplish in basketball. Braun said the Trojans should benefit from having many players on the roster that also played basketball, though.

“It’s kind of fun because we get camaraderie from playing together during basketball season,” he said. “We’re close- knit and it’s fun.”

The Trojans face the additional challenge of essentially playing an entire season on the road — home games are played at Central Kitsap — while a new field is constructed at Olympic.

“It makes it tougher for us,” he said. “But if we make the playoffs, we’ll be ready for the road trips.”

That means the Trojans will continue to rely on Braun, something Andrews is comfortable with in several aspects of the game.

“He’s a guy that can throw against anyone,” said Andrews, adding that he’s impressed with Braun’s fastball and change-up. “Anytime I put him on the mound I know what I’m getting. He throws strikes and has good command of his pitching.”

Offensively, Andrews is impressed with his pupil’s development as a switch-hitter.

“You can always do both, but you usually don’t feel as confident from one side of the plate,” said Andrews, who also was a switch-hitter during his playing days. “I think he’s just as confident left-handed, if not more so.”

The coach’s highest compliment comes off the baseball diamond, though.

“He takes challenging courses, is a quick learner and bright,” Andrews said. “He’s a model student.”

The true definition of a student-athlete.

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