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Jackie Bradley Jr.: A pledge to grandma becomes a promise fulfilled

BOSTON -- They were sitting in front of the TV -- the 4-year-old and his grandmother, Martha Brown -- watching a ballgame together.

"Grandma, I’m going to play in the major leagues one day," the little boy said.

“I think you are, too, baby," Martha Brown replied.

That was the first time Jackie Bradley Jr. had shared his dream with anyone.

The last time he saw Brown alive was at his wedding in December 2013. His grandmother was gravely ill at the time, suffering from complications of the heart disease that already had required triple-bypass surgery, but she insisted doctors hold off on an another procedure so that she could be present.

Bradley turned 24 on April 19, 2014. Two days later, his grandmother died. The family delayed the funeral long enough for Bradley to be able to fly home on a Boston Red Sox off-day so he could be present.

There isn’t a day that goes by, he said, when Bradley doesn’t think of his grandmother. Before every at-bat, he scratches “MM” into the dirt around home plate with his bat. One M is for Grandma Martha. The other is for his best friend, Matt Saye, who was killed in a one-car accident coming back from a grocery store when he was 21.

“Happened just before I signed," Bradley said, “back in 2011. One of those things where I think he may have overcorrected on a country back road, ditches on either side."

He has shared this story only on rare occasions. He was prompted to do so Monday -- after going 4-for-4 in Boston's 11-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays -- when a visitor asked him how his outward demeanor seems to deviate so little, whether he is in the throes of a horrific slump, like the one that dogged him all last season, or hitting everything in sight, the way he has for nearly a month now.

“I think it comes from knowing that I’m blessed," Bradley said Monday. “There are a lot of people not fortunate enough to be doing what I’m doing, to live out my dream. I’ve always wanted to do this since Day 1.

“Having my best friend pass away, that kind of let me know just how short life is, and makes me want to be able to live every day like it’s your last and enjoy it."

It is within the nature of his faith, Bradley said, to believe on some unexplainable level he is still communing with his grandmother and imagines how pleased she must be at the remarkable course his career has taken since his recall in late July.

Since Aug. 9, Bradley leads all major league hitters with a .458 average (37 for 83), with 24 extra-base hits. He hit his eighth home run in that span on Monday afternoon, going opposite field on Jays reliever Ryan Tepera with a man on in the sixth. He has hit seven home runs in his past 25 games after hitting five in his first 188.

It didn’t matter what the Blue Jays threw him Monday: A Mark Buehrle cutter in the third, base hit to center. A Buehrle changeup in the fourth, RBI single to right. The home run came on a Tepera fastball. An RBI ground-rule double in the seventh came on a Tepera curveball.

Before Monday, three players this season have had two games of four hits and at least four RBIs: MVP candidate Josh Donaldson of the Jays, Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies and Nick Castellanos of the Tigers.

Bradley became the fourth, and he did it in the span of 23 days. He also had four hits and four RBIs against Seattle on Aug. 15.

“It’s one of those things you don’t even want to think about it, keep riding the wave," Bradley said. “You don’t try to figure out what you’re doing. Just try to come out here and do the same thing."

While he might not have shown it outwardly, there were times he was dragged down by all the empty at-bats that led him to lose his job as the team’s everyday center fielder last season, despite his splendid glovework, and caused him to spend the first four months of 2015 in Triple-A Pawtucket.

“I wouldn’t say down," he said. “But sometimes you get frustrated, because we know what we’re capable of doing and we haven’t really shown it yet."

What Bradley has shown the world the past four weeks is enough to make anyone take notice -- and make a grandma proud.