Brandon Caraway ‘96 is never in search for a reason to rekindle his deep appreciation for an Eagle experience which impacts his life two decades removed from his St. Thomas graduation.
The youngest-ever inductee and among the most recent to the STH Sports Hall of Fame embraced long ago a steep understanding of the opportunities he was afforded … the personal and spiritual growth he continues to enjoy now as a husband and father.
“Attending St. Thomas was the single most important thing that has happened to me,” Caraway says with certainty. “This is where I became a man … learned a foundation for life … the value of work and integrity. The camaraderie with my classmates and teammates … the mentoring from the faculty and the Basilian Fathers … remains with me to this day. Academics and athletics … and now my view from the corporate world … networking and relationships … this was the total package.”
And the final exclamation point to Caraway’s memorable baseball career … the most coveted distinction an Eagle athlete may receive … was awarded as he joined nine other St. Thomas luminaries and the 1939 football team in the Class of 2016 … remembered and revered during an induction ceremony before a vibrant crowd in Cemo Auditorium.
“It’s so humbling,” Caraway says. “I received an unexpected phone call that I was nominated by a group I don’t really have much association. And then to actually be inducted was shocking. I look at all the great Eagles … great men not just great former athletes … who have given so much to their school and communities. To be included … amazing.”
Caraway carved acclaim within a program where resounding success has resonated for more than 70 years … then vaulted to notable merit at the University of Houston and on to professional baseball.
The first-ever Eagle named team captain for his sophomore, junior and senior seasons … Caraway was a two-time All-Greater Houston second baseman and integral part of four consecutive Texas Catholic Interscholastic League state championships … capping an extraordinary stretch of eight straight St. Thomas state titles from 1989 to 1996.
“My senior year we had more than a half dozen guys go on to play at the next level … speaks to our talent,” Caraway says. “But there was more. Coach Jim Connor put us all in a position to be successful … to get the most out of us. We all owed a lot to him.”
In reality Caraway feels indebted on many fronts to those responsible for paving his path to 4500 Memorial Drive.
Caraway primarily attended public schools growing up and was zoned to enroll at HISD Waltrip High School before a recruiting visit to St. Thomas during his eighth grade academic year produced an option that proved to carry life-altering consequences.
“I just had a sense … a feeling this would be the right place for me moving forward,” Caraway said. “It was my decision to come here but that didn’t mean it was going to be easy. I talked with my father and he was completely honest with me on what it would take for me to meet the academic and financial demands.”
Caraway committed to a summer work program on campus while also tapping into a broad tuition assistance program and benefiting directly from the annual Scholarship of ‘63 directed by Tom Braniff ‘63, Auxiliary Bishop George Sheltz, D.D. ’63 and Pat Tamborello ’63.
“I wouldn’t be here tonight … would not have had the St. Thomas experience without that support,” Caraway says with gratitude and respect. “I can’t say enough about Tom Braniff. He remains a strong influence today. I thank him every day for all that he’s done.”
Braniff says “Brandon’s athletic ability was always obvious … but his character is what separated him then and what defines him most today. We were introduced before he enrolled as a freshman. He was emphatic that he wanted to be at St. Thomas. And later that he wanted to become Catholic. Our scholarship group has never been involved with a better individual.”
Caraway received multiple college offers including Texas A&M, Baylor, Alabama and Mississippi before electing to play at Houston where he then assembled one of the most complete careers in recent Cougar history … leaving as UH’s all-time record holder in multiple offensive categories … including hits, doubles, total bases and stolen bases.
In 1999 Caraway was named the team’s Most Valuable Player … third team All-America by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association … first team All-Conference USA … and to the NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team … all while earning his Bachelor of Science in Economics. He was a 12th-round selection of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2000 and spent his final two professional seasons in the Astros organization.
Caraway now thrives as a district sales manager with Entellus Medical Inc. … a hard-charging med-tech startup which raised nearly $80 million in its initial public offering in 2015.
“It’s a rising company. The projects and opportunities are exciting and fulfilling … the kind of environment that brings out the best in me … just the way I’m wired,” Caraway says.
Caraway’s wife Jamie Lynn required no cliff notes briefing before the Hall of Fame main event. She and Brandon were high school sweethearts living many of those diamond days together when cell phones were used only for calls and and the Macarena went viral. Now their family includes 11-year-old daughter Peyton who excels as a level 7 competitor at the Cypress Academy of Gymnastics … nine-year-old Brandon Junior who only answers to “Bo” … and twins Ryker and Charlie who turn five in September.
On induction night the Caraways parked on the back side of campus and leisurely strolled past Fr. Wilson Field and Brandon paused when a whelming sense of joy, nostalgia and pride seized hold … engulfed in a flood of emotions as vivid as when the title-clinching and dogpiling were simply an expected accessory to every season.
Later Caraway took pause during his celebratory evening to take stock in the current state of Eagle Baseball which was in the midst of a historic campaign … 28 consecutive games without a loss to start the season … the program’s first-ever national ranking … and its sixth TAPPS state tournament in seven years.
“That’s a standard that you feel you’re somewhat a part of,” Caraway said. “In the early 1990s we knew what had been accomplished before we were here. There was a determination to add to that legacy. And now you see the success continuing. A state championship two years ago and this season that rates among the best in the history of the program.
“But it’s not just baseball. How many future lawyers … physicians … investment bankers … continue to come through these hallways … civic leaders who touch all corners of their communities. That’s what defines St. Thomas. My hope is that my son will soon share in this brotherhood.”