Globe-trotting Coach Comes HomeLong before there was Little League girl pitching ace Mo’ne Davis, there was another little girl who was a youth league baseball all-star right here in the Islands.
She grew up on Kauai and excelled as a pitcher, shortstop and second-baseman.
“I remember making the all-star trips to Oahu,” she tells me. “Playing against the boys toughened me up.”
Her given name was Patty Jane Brun, but everyone called her P.J. She became an outstanding high school softball player at Kauai High and then a starting catcher for the University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine from 1989 to ’94, where she was All-Big West and a nominee for NCAA Woman of the Year.
It was at UH when she also started playing around with the spelling of her first name — soon P.J. became Peejay.
“A friend thought of it and I liked it, and so I went with it,” she says.
I caught up with Brun on Hawaii island a few days ago, when she just had been named head softball coach at University of Hawaii at Hilo. The folks in Hilo are ecstatic that she has taken her talents back to the Islands after a stellar coaching career on the Mainland.
“It’s so nice to be here. I always wanted to come back,” Brun says.
For the past 20 years, Brun has been all over the globe — playing professional softball on the Mainland and in Europe, and coaching in California, New York and Texas. She started the Division I softball program at Siena in 2002 and then later moved to powerful Texas State as the top assistant coach — that’s where she’s been the past eight seasons. Now, she makes the move to DII and longtime PacWest powerhouse UHHilo.
“I remember even in my playing days with the Wahine that we had to be on our toes when we played Hilo,” she says. “It’s always been a good program.”
Brun is known as hardworking, enthusiastic and a player’s coach. She was a driving force for the first Wahine team to ever make it to the NCAA tournament — an accomplishment she essentially achieved by accident, quite literally.
“I was in a car wreck in Honolulu at the beginning of my senior year. I was in the backseat as a passenger and got tossed around like a rag doll,” she recalls. She suffered a broken wrist and injured knee, while also being knocked unconscious. “I ended up red-shirting that year. I say now, looking back, that it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
In the extra year, she “learned how to be a teammate when you can’t play every day. Then, a year later, I became a part of history,” she says.
She recalls a tall Aussie pitcher who enrolled at UH and changed everything.
“I’ll never forget Brook Wilkins and I going out to the field together for the first time — it was just her and me out there. I caught her and I immediately knew we had something special. That whole season was amazing,” she says.
Wilkins and Brun led the Wahine to the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament in 1994.
“For the first time, people going to the Rainbow baseball games would stop by the softball games to watch,” she says. The success created by that team also eventually led to the building of the new Rainbow Wahine softball stadium and Bob Coolen’s many outstanding teams over the years.
Brun is hoping to create that same kind of excitement and success in Hilo.
“A lot of Hawaii kids are outstanding softball players, and we want to convince them to stay in the Islands,” she says. “As a local girl, I know the talent is here.”
Peejay Brun is home.