Former MLB journeyman Darren Bragg reminisces about time with Red Sox
|06.03.13 at 12:30 pm ET|
In a Saturday afternoon game at Fenway Park on Aug. 24, 1996, with the shadows slowing creeping their way around the batter’s box, lefty-hitting Red Sox outfielder Darren Bragg was set to face one of the most intimidating left-handed flamethrowers the game of baseball has ever seen.
It was a matchup that almost seemed unfair. Randy Johnson, aka the “Big Unit,” standing 6-foot-10, was ahead in the count 1-2 against the 5-foot-9 Bragg. With the Sox leading the Mariners 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth, Johnson left his next pitch out over the plate, and Bragg took Johnson deep for a grand slam, which led the home team to a 9-5 win. This clutch hit — one his 46 career home runs — was without a doubt one of the defining moments of Bragg’s career.
Bragg spent 2½ of his 11 seasons with the Red Sox, and arguably had his most success with them. A product of Taft High School in Watertown, Conn., Bragg went on to play at Georgia Tech and was drafted by the Mariners in the 22nd round in 1991. He made his major league debut with Seattle on April 12, 1994. After receiving limited playing time in Seattle, Bragg was traded to Boston on July 30, 1996, in exchange for Jamie Moyer. He stayed with Boston through the 1998 season, and of the nine teams he played for, Bragg had the most total at-bats, hits, home runs and RBIs with the Sox.
“Boston was special for me, being a Connecticut kid, growing up within that Yankees-Red Sox rivalry,” Bragg said last month. “My grandfather was a big Red Sox fan and my dad was a big Yankees fan, so that’s all we did was talk about baseball and the Yankees and Red Sox all the time.
“It was a lot of fun walking out in the tunnel, knowing that guys like Yaz [Carl Yastrzemski] and Ted Williams all walked that same path to the dugout to looking at the Green Monster as you look out the home-side dugout. So I definitely thought about that all the time. I considered myself very fortunate to be able to do that.”
When Bragg was acquired by the Sox in late July of ’96, the team was struggling mightily at 46-58 and out of the playoff picture. In 58 games for Boston that season, Bragg hit .252/.357/.365 with three home runs and 22 RBIs and helped the Sox finish strong at 85-77 , seven games behind the first-place Yankees and three games behind the wild card-winning Orioles. With that late-August victory over the Mariners, the team reached the .500 mark for just the second time that season and would not fall below that mark the rest of the way.
In his career, Bragg took both Johnson and Greg Maddux deep, an achievement not many players can claim. The long ball off of Johnson was extra special, though, provided the atmosphere, time of year and what it meant to the team’s season. It was the first home run Johnson surrendered to a lefty hitter in four years.
“It was definitely a thrill,” Bragg said. “It was one of the greatest thrills I had, being able to do that, hit a grand slam off him at Fenway Park. It was during the day, a day game, it was perfect.”
“It’s funny because if I think back to that at-bat, I could tell you that he threw me a pitch before I hit that grand slam [where] I could barely see the ball. I was like, ‘Whoa, that was scary.’ I had some doubt, cleared the doubt, went back into the batter’s box, and he hung me a slider and I was able to get the good part of the bat on it.”
In 1997, his first full season with the Sox, Bragg set career highs in games played (153), at-bats (513), hits (132), doubles (35) and RBIs (57). He also played solid defense, mainly seeing time in center field.
In the 1998 campaign, the Sox finished at 92-70 and made the playoffs as the wild card in the American League. Bragg mainly played right field, hitting .279 with eight home runs and 57 RBIs in 129 games. The team was dispatched by the Indians in four games in the American League Division Series.
That would end up being Bragg’s last season in Boston. He spent his final six seasons bouncing around the majors with Cardinals, Rockies, Mets, Yankees, Braves, Padres and Reds.
Bragg recalled many great memories from his time with the Red Sox, and noted that he keeps in touch with former teammates Mo Vaughn, John Valentin and Tim Naehring. He also mentioned Jeff Frye and Sean Casey as a couple of the most entertaining teammates in the clubhouse but said all of the guys he played with were great, and he emphasized the importance of “staying loose” in the clubhouse.
“There was one time, a pretty funny thing,” Bragg said. “There was a game where I slid into first base and came up about 20 feet short going down the line because I basically tripped. The guys gave me a hard time and put a base halfway between home and first and said that it was where I played a baseball game.”
Bragg had the fortune of playing for some legendary skippers in his career, including Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella and Bobby Cox. He appreciated all of his coaches but felt strongest about the ones who were able to give him that extra confidence, and those who let him know that he was “their guy.”
Bragg continues to follow baseball and the Red Sox, frequently seeing parts of games and checking the scores and stats. After his career, Bragg worked as the hitting coach for the Reds for two years and still works today for the club as an outfield/baserunning coordinator.
“[Defense and baserunning] is something that I enjoy coaching and teaching because that to me was my part of the game; the hustle, the baserunning, the playing good D,” Bragg said. “I get a big hit here or there or I get lucky.”
Today, Bragg is raising his three daughters with his wife, and he runs The Hit Club, a baseball training facility located in Thomaston, Conn. His daughters are 14, 12, and 10, and while none of them play softball, they are actively involved in sports and other activities.
“They’re all playing soccer, basketball, gymnastics, dancing,” Bragg said. “So, basically you’re free time is done and my wife and I have become taxicab drivers for our kids.
“It’s enjoyable. I love watching them play. It’s a lot of fun to watch them play when they’re playing soccer and watching them compete.”
Bragg’s schedule also includes a handful of days per week helping run The Hit Club. During the winter Bragg is at the training facility four or five days a week, and during the spring there are leagues for the club’s players. The club began when Bragg’s uncle (who owns the building), gave his nephew the opportunity. Bragg wanted to create a place where kids who love baseball and softball could “facilitate their efforts to get better.”
“We’ve reached a lot of kids and we hear a lot of good things when the parents email us and tell us how much their kids love it, so it’s rewarding,” Bragg said.
America’s pastime has been a continuous presence in his life, and Bragg is appreciative of that.
“We just had some games this weekend with our young kids here, the 10-year-olds to 12-year-olds, and I enjoy that just as much as I enjoy going to watch the Yankees play the Red Sox,” Bragg said. “There’s something about the game that’s timeless. You can just sit there and watch it and enjoy it.
“It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve been very blessed to be able to do this my whole life.”
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