|So far, so good for Milton Bradley, who 'just figured it out' following his son's birth|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 06 September 2007 16:03|
For a year and a half, he says, he's been putting the interests of his little boy ahead of his own.
Playing for his fifth team in eight big league seasons, he says he gets it now.
As the San Diego Padres try to win their third straight NL West title, Bradley has been their offensive catalyst, providing sock to an offense that desperately needed it.
While he plays with an intensity that sometimes leaves fan wondering if or when he might snap, Padres fans are seeing Milton Bradley the baseball player, not Milton Bradley the hothead.
``I just figured it out,'' Bradley said. ``You get tired of not getting respect, getting recognized for what you're able to do out there. There's always going to be something holding you back. I let it go.''
In Bradley's case, it was his outbursts.
He was suspended for the final five games of the 2004 season when he slammed a plastic bottle at the feet of a fan in the box seats in the right field corner at Dodger Stadium after someone threw it on the field. Nobody was injured.
In 2005, he accused Dodgers teammate Jeff Kent of a lack of leadership and an inability to deal with black players.
Bradley had two run-ins with police during traffic stops in Ohio, one that resulted in a three-day stay in jail and another that nearly sent him back for a second visit. When he was with the Dodgers, police responded three times to Bradley's home on domestic violence calls, but he wasn't arrested or charged.
So what changed?
``I had a kid in December '05 and it just kind of changed my priorities, where there's somebody else out there that I cared about more than me,'' said Bradley, who has a photo of himself and his son, Jeremiah, in his locker. ``I got to that point I had a responsibility to him to do all I could to provide and give him the best. So things had to change.''
He's been traded twice since then, from the Dodgers to Oakland on Dec. 31, 2005; then from Oakland to San Diego on June 29 after the A's designated him for assignment.
Although he doesn't necessarily like discussing his past, Bradley brought it up when asked if people should be surprised with his recent play, or if they should expect it.
``I don't think it should be a surprise,'' Bradley said. ``Nobody's said I couldn't play. It's always been, 'What's he going to do?' This, that, whatever, as far as my attitude. 'Is he going to stay out of trouble off the field? Is he going to stay healthy?'
``I'm just going to say that I know I'm a better player now than when I was with the Dodgers. Just smarter, physically stronger, just more experienced. I have a better idea what's going on. I know how to deal with you guys better, too,'' he said to reporters.
That doesn't mean Bradley is suddenly a wallflower.
When he struck out against the Diamondbacks recently, he snapped his bat over his right leg, getting a rise out of the crowd. Then again, the late Ken Caminiti used to do that a lot a decade ago with the Padres. Bradley flings his bat aside after drawing walks. He got ejected for showing up an ump on Monday night at Arizona.
Future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux said he enjoys watching Bradley ``playing on edge.''
Said Bradley: ``I'm intense, but it's a fun intensity.''
He also knows some people might read into it more than is there.
Noting that some players are lauded for intensity or focus if they do something similar, he said: ``If I do it, 'He's angry, he's upset, he's out of control.' I've never been in a situation where I've been out of control. I knew exactly what I was doing at all times. That's why no one's ever been harmed. I've never hurt anybody but myself in any situation I've ever been in. I've never been in a fight in my life.''
Mild-mannered manager Bud Black doesn't have any problem with Bradley breaking a bat.
``That's just a guy wearing the emotion on his sleeve. He's a passionate guy. You don't really want to stifle the passion in a player. And here's the deal - a lot of times the fans or the media don't see it because players go down the tunnel or up in the clubhouse to do their thing,'' said Black, a big league pitcher for 15 seasons.
``Hey, listen, I'm the first guy to tell you: Have I thrown my glove against the wall, have I taken a bat into the clubhouse? Absolutely.''
When Bradley joined the Padres, management talked to him about the future, not the past.
With Bradley approaching his prime, ``He's figuring out himself, he's figuring out the whole total game and everything that goes around baseball,'' Black said. ``There's a segment of this game that extends beyond the 2 1/2 hours of playing. Getting it all together before the game, after the game, off the field, makes you a good player. And I think hopefully he's getting to that point where everything's coming together for him.''
Since his acquisition, Bradley is hitting .326 and has a .429 on-base percentage, with 10 homers and 29 RBIs. He had two homers while with Oakland.
In the series opener against L.A., Bradley provided a lighthearted moment when Trevor Hoffman jogged in from the bullpen, staring at the ground, to close out the Dodgers. Bradley moved over several yards from his position in left field and stood with hands on his hips to see if he could get a rise out of the right-hander.
``He never looks at me,'' said Bradley, who added that he feels the energy from ``Hells Bells'' when it blares over the sound system to announce Hoffman's arrival. ``I wait every time, watch him the whole way. That's his thing. He doesn't look up. I was trying to see if I can get him off his game. I can't. He's unshakable.''
Said Hoffman: ``I hope he doesn't think I was blowing him off. I stay pretty locked in.''
Bradley doesn't feel like he's under the gun anymore.
``I'm past it,'' he said. ``I'm here. And everybody always loves you when you're playing well. I really haven't had a bad stretch. We'll see. But I don't plan on having one.''