Cody Brown said it always was a joke with the doctors, nurses, and lab technicians during his battle with a rare form of blood cancer.

"They knew," Brown said, "not to touch my left arm."

Brown had plans for that arm and plans for the rest of his baseball career and plans for the rest of his life.

He wasn't going to let anaplastic large cell lymphoma - the disease that was diagnosed in October 2013 - stand in his way.

"I never allowed myself to think I wasn't going to come back," Brown said.

It was one thing to think positive.

It was quite another to make such a remarkable recovery and return to the baseball field this spring with such a flourish.

"Unbelievable," Gloucester Catholic coach Mike Rucci said of Brown's comeback.

Rucci is like just about everybody else associated with South Jersey's best baseball program: thrilled and proud over news of Brown's success on the mound this spring for Central Connecticut State University but not the least bit surprised.

Brown was one of the most accomplished players in Gloucester Catholic baseball history. He was a two-time all-South Jersey selection and the Inquirer player of the year as a senior in 2011. That year he went 12-0 with an 0.80 ERA, threw a no-hitter in the South B title game, and was the winning pitcher and hit a home run in the state championship game.

"One of the toughest players I've ever coached," former Gloucester Catholic and current Rutgers-Camden coach Dennis Barth said of Brown.

The 6-0, 190-pound Brown dealt with the challenges of his treatment - including chemotherapy sessions that caused weight and hair loss - in the same way he has approached competitive challenges during his athletic career: in a straightforward, determined manner, with his head up and his eyes forward.

He also told everybody to stick that needle in his right arm, not his left.

"I'm a positive person," Brown said. "I like to laugh. I like to have fun. I do my best when I'm loose and I'm having fun.

"I approached this [battle with cancer] the same way. I think the key to almost everything is a positive attitude."

Central Connecticut coach Charlie Hickey has been amazed by Brown's approach.

"So many times in our lives we get caught up in little things, and we tend to feel sorry for ourselves," Hickey said. "Then you go out there and you see this kid, with everything he went through, smiling and running around and having fun, and you realize what's important."

Brown was told by doctors that he was clear of cancer about a year ago. But he still had a hard road ahead of him in regaining his strength and stamina.

"The fall [of 2014] probably was the toughest time for me," Brown said. "I would have good days and then I would have bad days, and my confidence would drop down."

Said Hickey: "During the fall and winter, he couldn't push himself the way he wanted to and the way he used to. Things didn't come as easy to him as they used to."

In typical fashion, Brown battled through the challenges inherent in the final stages of his return to athletic competition at the NCAA Division I level.

He took the mound as a relief pitcher in two games early in the season for the Blue Devils, then took the hill as a starter on March 15 against Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va.

Brown was back to his old self, if not better: He went seven strong innings, allowing three hits with 15 strikeouts in a 4-2 victory.

"I didn't realize I had that many," Brown said of the 15 strikeouts. "Guys were coming up to me after the game and telling me I had 15, and I was surprised."

In his next outing, at home against Quinnipiac on Tuesday, Brown went seven strong innings again. He allowed six hits with four strikeouts in an 8-1 victory.

"He just has that tenacity to make tough pitches in the clutch," Hickey said. "It's not always as clean and simple as I would like, but if he's got to make a pitch with runners on second and third and two outs and a 2-2 count, he's going to make it."

Through Friday, Brown had a 2-0 record with a 2.31 ERA. He had 25 strikeouts with just six walks.

Brown and his twin brother, Casey, who missed last season with an arm ailment, are redshirt juniors for the Blue Devils. Both of them could be selected in the major-league baseball draft in June. They are both lefthanders with fastballs that sit in the 88-m.p.h. range, and they know how to pitch.

"That would be something special," Cody Brown said of being drafted in June. "It's something I've always thought about. It would show that dreams come true."

panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

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