July 1, 2012

Ferrari makes a stop on road that leads to Fenway Park

Jackie Bradley Jr., 22, is going to be a major leaguer. He may be in Boston by next year.

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Scouts sat in the front row at Hadlock Field last week, watching the Portland Sea Dogs take batting practice, and ignoring the batter.

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Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Portland Sea Dogs is everything you could want in a prospect, and the Red Sox know it.

Photos by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

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Jackie Bradley Jr. not only has a grip on his baseball ability, which may get him to the majors soon, but also a grip on both and the highs and lows of life off the field.

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Their focus drifted to center field, where Jackie Bradley Jr. was sprinting. Bradley never simply shags during batting practice. He fields – watching balls jump off the bat, and running down every line drive or fly ball.

“He gets five games of experience in one batting practice,” one scout said.

Amiel Sawdaye, the Red Sox director of amateur scouting, watched Bradley’s routine.
“Power shagging,” is how Sawdaye described it. “He treats every BP like a game.”

And a treat he is.

Bradley, 22, is going to be a major leaguer. He may be in Boston by next year. He eventually may take Jacoby Ellsbury’s job in center field, as wild as that sounds.

Bradley might remind Portland fans of Ellsbury, or a Hanley Ramirez, or an Adrian Gonzalez. He is one of those entities that grace Hadlock now and then – showing such physical gifts and dedication that you might dare utter the two unspeakable words:

Sure thing.

“Talented,” said Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles, who then listed Bradley’s attributes, from his hitting prowess to his defense, his arm, his speed …

In a nutshell?

“He’s a Ferrari,” Boles said.

A Ferrari that constantly undergoes a tuneup, perfecting what already is special.

“He’s one of those kids, he’s got the hunger,” said Donnie Brittingham, Bradley’s longtime coach and mentor in Prince George, Va.

“In baseball there’s always something different to learn, something new. Jack loves that. He’s the most coachable kid because he just soaks it in.”

There was the time after his high school freshman season that Bradley wanted to become a better two-strike hitter. So when he played on an American Legion team that summer, Bradley played Casey-at-the-Bat style, always taking two called strikes before swinging.

“People feel uncomfortable when they have two strikes because they have that fear of striking out,” Bradley said.  “I wanted to make it feel comfortable no matter what the count was, whether I had two strikes or not.”

That summer, playing against players two and three years older, and only swinging with two strikes, Bradley batted .405.

And so it went. In Legion ball, fall leagues, travel teams, school teams, Bradley kept focusing on an area to improve – hitting to all fields, working the count, bunting and, of course, getting to every ball hit his way.

“Watch him run,” Boles said. “The good outfielders, when you watch them go for a ball, their head stays still, they stride, and they just close on the ball. That’s what he does very well.”

Or as Sea Dogs pitcher Drake Britton said, “the way he tracks down a ball, it looks like the ball naturally floats to him.”

LEARNING TO PERSEVERE

For all his work and ability, Bradley wasn’t highly recruited by Division I schools out of Prince George High, nor was he drafted. But when University of South Carolina coaches watched him, they saw potential and offered a scholarship.

Before his freshman season, Bradley dealt with a scary episode of blood clots caused by an extra rib. The rib was removed, and Bradley recovered in time to become a freshman All-American.

South Carolina sent Bradley to the Cape Cod League the next summer. He batted under .200 his first month with Hyannis, but .360 the second month.

“What separates the great ones from good ones is how they handle failure and overcome it,” Hyannis Coach Chad Gassman said. “Jackie is a grinder. He’s not going to let a situation get him down. Scouts want to see how you persevere, and Jackie did just that.”

(Continued on page 2)

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