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September 9, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Q&A with Jackie Bradley Jr.

Embarking on a professional career after compiling some of the most memorable college moments of any baseball player in history, Jackie Bradley, Jr. remains the same highly skilled and charismatic prospect he has been his entire life. A potential five-tool outfielder, Bradley, Jr. burst on to the national radar in 2009 as a freshman at South Carolina, hitting .349/.431/.537 with 11 home runs and 46 RBI. After spending the summer of 2009 in the Cape Cod League with the Hyannis Mets, Bradley, Jr. continued to take his game to the next level in 2010, hitting .368/.473/.587 with 13 home runs and 60 RBI for the World Series champion Gamecocks. He showed his ability to come through in the clutch with a key two-out, game-tying RBI single in the bottom of the twelfth inning against Oklahoma in the second round of the College World Series. His heroic efforts and superior performance led to Bradley, Jr. being named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.

Entering 2011, Bradley, Jr. was seen as one of the top prospects in the country, and a sure-fire bet to be a first round selection in the amateur draft this summer. However, a wrist injury forced Bradley, Jr. to miss 26 games and he hit just .259/.361/.468 with 6 home runs and 26 RBI in 37 games. The injury dampened Bradley, Jr.’s prospects in the draft, allowing him to fall to the Red Sox in the supplemental first round at pick 40. Known for his strong defensive prowess and throwing arm, Bradley, Jr. led South Carolina to a second straight World Series title before signing with Boston and beginning his professional career in Lowell on August 23. Before one of the Spinners last home games of the season, Bradley, Jr. took some time to speak to me about his career, love for the game, and passion for giving to others.

John Gray: You were a member of the Hyannis Mets of the Cape Cod League in 2009 after your freshman season at South Carolina. What was the difference between playing in the Cape League versus college?
Jackie Bradley, Jr.: It was a lot of fun, my host family really made the experience great for me. My host parents actually came up to see me play and get my first hit here in Lowell. They are really special to me and it was great to play in such a competitive league and see how passionate baseball was in New England.

JG: You were drafted 40th overall by the Red Sox in this year’s draft, what were your expectations heading into the draft and how did you feel when it was Boston who ended up selecting you?
JB: Yeah, I knew Boston was looking at me very closely. There were a number of teams who showed a lot of interest, but I always felt the Red Sox were the ones who really wanted me the most. I didn’t have expectations going into the draft, just letting the chips fall where they may and see how things worked out. I wanted to be prepared for whatever situation I found myself in, but I am very happy to be a member of such a great organization here in Boston.

JG: Was there ever any doubt in your mind that you would sign? Did you think there was a possibility you would head back to South Carolina for your senior year?
JB: I had two very good options on the table for me and I actually did think about heading back to college. The honest truth is that I loved being a part of such a great program at South Carolina, but I was also ready to begin my professional career. I was able to strike a deal with the Red Sox right before the deadline and everything worked out for the best.

JG: In 2010, you led your team to the National Championship, being named Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series. What was it about your team that made them champions and what are your lasting memories of the entire season?
JB: The thing that sticks out about our team was that we weren’t a bunch of highly touted prospects or individuals; we really just played as a team. We were really close in the clubhouse; we would hang out together and really pull for each other. A lot of teams we faced were all business-like and very serious. We were different because we went out and just had fun, we loved playing baseball and having fun with each other.

One of the coolest things about winning the CWS was going to the White House and meeting the president. He told me that he was watching the games on TV and shook my hand, it was really an unforgettable experience.

JG: 2011 had a tough beginning for you as you sustained a wrist injury. How devastating was the injury to you and how much of an effect do you feel it had on your junior season?
JB: The worst thing about the injury was that it didn’t give me a chance to play. I didn’t have a chance to get into a groove and get locked in. I was struggling early on in the season and then I got injured. I was out seven weeks and sat on the bench hoping my team would be able to replicate what we did in 2010. I wanted to be able to get back out on the field and help the guys out and win another title. The fact we were able to win back-to-back championships just speaks to how amazing the program at South Carolina really is.

JG: Once you returned to play after the injury, did you try to make up for lost time?
JB: Of course! The game is hard enough already, try going out there and playing the game hurt. It’s very difficult having to battle through injuries. I would strongly advise anyone not to try and play when you are badly hurt; it’s no walk in the park.

JG: I have seen that you admire Torii Hunter. What is it about Torii you admire and how do you think you compare to him in the field?
JB: Torii is a true leader. He’s a very vocal guy and lets his voice be known in the clubhouse. I am not a very vocal guy myself, but I admire how Torii can pull his team together. He really goes to get it in the outfield. Climbing walls, making diving plays, he can just do it all and make it look easy. I’ve always been proud of my defensive ability, making a great throw or taking away extra bases with a diving catch. I feel like the highlight for me of any game is a great defensive play. Defense just comes easy for me, and it’s what I feel is my best asset.

JG: What led you to choose retail management as a major during college?
JB: Virginia doesn’t offer retail management as a major and South Carolina did. It was also one of the majors that helped me out financially as well. If baseball doesn’t work out for me, I always thought I could be a pretty good entrepreneur.

JG: You’re a prolific user of Twitter, what is it about Twitter that you enjoy most?
JB: It gives people a chance to get to know me. I like to let people live vicariously through me. I want them to know the type of person I am. Hopefully one day I get to meet all my followers. I also just really like having fun with it and being able to provide good solid messages to everyone. Being able to spread good faith and positive messages hopefully helps everyone who reads my tweets. My quote on Twitter is from Jackie Robinson, my favorite baseball player of all time. Without Jackie doing what he did, I am not here playing baseball. I try to give baseball as well as life my all each and every day because you can’t take anything for granted. When I see someone who needs a little boost or help, I want to be that person to lend them a hand to bring them to a better place in their lives. (Follow Jackie on Twitter @JackieBradleyJr)

JG: Having just arrived in Lowell, what has it been like to acclimate to pro ball, what are the major differences from college?
JB: At the professional level, baseball is an everyday thing. Since I’ve gotten here, we have had a game every single day. There’s very little down time and you are constantly working. I really like that constant aspect of it because it keeps me going and keeps me motivated. We always like to say that we enjoy the games more than practice, so having a game all the time is a welcome change over practice.

JG: I’ve seen that you like to give back to the community as much as you can. What types of things do you do in terms of community service and why?
JB: I’ve been around a couple of different baseball fields and surprised a couple of different teams and kids by handing out trophies and awards. I remember during college I went to a middle school and talked to a lot of kids about staying strong and determined. I know that I was focused and mature at such a young age because I knew what I wanted to do in life. A lot of kids these days don’t know what they want to do and I want to let them know that they can do whatever they want, but they have to give it their all. If you do everything you can to get to where you want to be, you won’t have to have any doubts about yourself. Something as simple as signing an autograph for a kid can be one of the most cherished memories in their lives. While it may be something I do all the time, that one child that you signed an autograph for will never forget it. Being able to lift someone up and brighten their day is something I have always strived to do.

JG: You collected your first professional hit last evening (August 26). Can you walk us through how that moment felt and did you get the ball back?
JB: It was a surreal feeling. I got the hit and then they stopped the game and threw the ball in to the dugout, so I got the ball back. The coaches wrote my name and put “first professional hit” as well as the team and pitcher I faced on the ball for me. Getting that first hit out of the way was a relief and hopefully now I can get on a roll. I am just really trying to see the ball deep and get used to the pitching at this level.

JG: You, Noe Ramirez and Matt Barnes all arrived in Lowell at around the same time. Have you guys developed a bond since you were all members of the 2011 draft class going through a new experience for the first time?
JB: Yeah we actually do. We travel together; we always ride together (Barnes drives us) and hang out. We also have our lockers next to each other so it was really helpful to walk in to a new situation and clubhouse and see familiar faces. Having played with Noe and Matt before, it has helped the transition for me go more smoothly knowing that I am not in it alone and with guys that have been there with me before.

JG: What is your walk up music and why did you select it?
JB: I use two different songs, "Yeah Ya Know" by TI because I like the beat on it and "Power" by Kayne West. It has a great beat to it and it really gets me pumped up for my at-bats.

JG: You’ve stated before that you have a lot of fun playing baseball and don’t worry about the business side of the game. Has that changed a bit now that you are a professional?
JB: I still am going to have all the fun in the world playing this game. I am a little different because I don’t go out a whole lot, I am a homebody. I like to hang out at the house, watch a lot of movies and just enjoy my time. I do realize that I’m a professional now, but I am ready to get out there and show what I can do. Just as an FYI, my favorite movie is Man on Fire with Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning.