Friday, June 25, 2010

Belief in Bradley

RT Staff note: Great Story...

By Sean Ryan Co-Founder

A thousand miles from Omaha, Neb., a high school baseball coach sat in an Atlanta hotel room and watched as South Carolina’s Jackie Bradley Jr. (right) stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 12th inning against Oklahoma.

“I’m sitting here thinking there’s no way in the world I’m going to pitch to him in that situation with a guy on second base,” said Mickey Roberts.

Roberts is the longtime coach of Prince George High School in Prince George, Va. (about 30 miles south of Richmond), where Bradley played on the Royals varsity for four years. Roberts, in Atlanta with a 14-U travel team playing at the same East Cobb complex where Gamecocks coaches first spotted Bradley, had told his wife a couple innings earlier to “look for him to end the game here.”

Bradley didn’t, and stepped to the plate in the 12th wearing an 0-for-5 collar as South Carolina’s last hope. With Robert Beary on second and the Gamecocks trailing 2-1 with two outs, the sophomore center fielder worked the count and ripped a 3-2 pitch down the right-field line to score Beary. After a walk to Jeffery Jones, Brady Thomas, also 0 for 5 entering the 12th, singled up the middle to score Bradley and save the Gamecocks’ season.

“They pitched to him, and he burned them,” Roberts said. “It didn’t surprise me when he got the hit.”

Roberts has seen it plenty of times before.

Bradley was a part of a Prince George team that was among the better teams in Central Virginia. Joining him in the outfield was John Bivens, who attended Virginia to play football and this season played baseball at Virginia State and was drafted in the 12th round. Bradley, Bivens and Roberts’ sons – Mike Roberts (VMI) and Sam Roberts (VMI) – pushed each other hard.

Roberts remembers Bradley, who threw a mid-80s fastball as a pitcher in high school, as often trying to pull the ball too much. But as he matured, he learned to use all fields.

“I knew he had tremendous drive,” said Roberts of Bradley, a roughly 4.0 student in high school. “He really wanted to succeed and really wanted to do well. I knew he was going to be good. I knew coming out of high school he would have a chance at professional baseball.”

The rest of the college baseball world is getting to know Bradley in a big way.

The smooth-swinging lefty launched a mammoth homer to right in South Carolina’s College World Series opening loss to Oklahoma (the homer came on Father’s Day, and Bradley told his father in a note that he would hit a homer for him). He then ripped a three-run shot to left-center as the Gamecocks eliminated top-ranked Arizona State on Tuesday.

“The kid has worked so hard,” Roberts said. “He deserves everything he’s getting now.”

What he’s getting is the ride of his life.

Bradley and the Gamecocks will face Clemson, needing two wins over their bitter rival to reach the CWS national championship series. All eyes back in Prince George, Va., will be watching.

So will a proud high school coach.

“It doesn’t surprise me he’s doing as well as he’s doing,” Roberts said. “The kid really wants it.”

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