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Jackie Bradley Jr. finds comfort, success as baseball nomad

06.17.13 at 2:45 pm ET
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PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Jackie Bradley Jr. had to stop and count on his fingers: Just how many ballparks had he called home over the last two years?

“Lowell, Greenville, Salem, Portland, here ‘€¦ yeah, six,” he said with some surprise, when adding his time in Fenway Park to his current “residence” of McCoy Stadium.

It’s easy to see how Bradley could lose track. Since signing with the Red Sox in the summer of 2011, Bradley has never stayed in one place for more than 67 games, and most of his stints have been less than half that long. He’s already jumped back and forth between Boston and Triple-A Pawtucket twice this year.

That’s not completely absurd for a top prospect coming out of college. A few of Bradley’€™s 2011 draft classmates, like the Indians’ Trevor Bauer and the Nationals’ Anthony Rendon, have also made four or five stops on their accelerated paths to the majors. It does, however, mean enough moves — for Bradley, eight in total between his minor-league debut on August 23, 2011 and June 2013 — to make anyone’s head spin.

“I guess I really haven’t settled in too much yet,” Bradley said. “I think the longest I’ve been settled in was half a season, and now with it being a new season, I still feel like I’m bouncing around. If anything, it’s just getting stable — that’s the toughest part.”

Bradley has moved between hotels, apartments and host families’ homes over the last 22 months since leaving the University of South Carolina. A Richmond, Va., native, he said he got to feel most at home with High-A Salem in the first half of last season. (Bradley also put up his best minor-league numbers with Salem: over 67 games, he hit .359/.480/.526, earning a promotion about 700 miles northeast to Double-A Portland.)

“Salem, I knew that pretty well,” Bradley said. “I’m from Virginia, so I’€™d visited there, Lynchburg area. I started to learn Portland a little bit as well, because I went out with my host parents and they kind of showed me around town.”

This year, though, Bradley has been short on time to settle in. He spent just over two weeks with the Red Sox (with much of that time coming on the road), returned to Pawtucket for five weeks, played another seven games in Boston and returned to Triple-A on June 8.

“Haven’t really been around too much in Pawtucket — certain places, places to eat around here, there’s a lot of places around where I stay,” Bradley said. “Haven’t really got too far out in Boston either — just a couple places that I’ve seen as well, but I really haven’t explored or gotten to see what’s out there yet.”

Fortunately, it’s easy to find a movie theater just about anywhere, from small-town Virginia to downtown Boston, and Bradley, who calls himself ‘€œa big movie guy,’€ has kept up with the summer’€™s new releases as ever. (He recommends Now You See Me and was looking forward to seeing Man of Steel the night it was released, despite some misgivings about another remake of the Superman story.)

‘€œI’m thinking about doing it in the offseason,’€ he added when a teammate joked that he should become a film critic. ‘€œIf I have some free time or something, I’ll be watching movies or just relaxing. I try not to do too much. Baseball’s tiring enough as it is, mentally and physically.’€

Off the field, the movies provide a constant. At the ballpark, Bradley said hitting coach Dave Joppie, who moved from Portland to Pawtucket in the offseason, has been a stabilizing force for him.

‘€œI’ve pretty much had the same hitting coach all throughout the minor leagues, and that’s been very helpful, because he’s seen me quite a bit and been able to just — not even necessarily the mechanical stuff, but been able to talk things through,’€ Bradley said. ‘€œIt’s just a sense of ease, and it’s more of a rhythm thing, not really focusing so much on mechanical things. That way you just go out there and play the game and have some fun.’€

Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina agrees that Joppie’€™s presence has helped Bradley through the whirlwind that has been the 2013 season to date.

‘€œI think it’s really good, and it’s more like a security blanket, because he has a connection. He has a relationship with [Joppie],’€ DiSarcina said. ‘€œThat’s one thing that I had to work with [Bradley] — I had to work on my relationship with him, because I didn’t know him. So to see him and Dave work together was good for me because I got to see a comfort level with both of those guys, and they both could bounce things off each other and didn’t have to worry about hurt feelings or anything like that.’€

Triple-A was the one level Bradley skipped on the way to the majors, but after hitting .097 in his first 12 games with the Red Sox, he found himself in Pawtucket for the first time. DiSarcina said that after the initial disappointment, Bradley got right back to playing the same way he always has.

‘€œHe had never really experienced failure like he had, and for him to do it on a big stage like the big leagues, it’s tough for someone to fail there for the first time,’€ DiSarcina said. ‘€œWherever he’s gone, he’s always won. He’s always done good. He’s always been the best player. He spent two weeks being humbled, so when he came back down here he was a little bit quiet at the beginning.’€

Over 26 total games in Pawtucket (interrupted by a brief trip back to Boston and a two-week stint on the DL for biceps tendinitis) Bradley is hitting .311/.408/.485 with a pair of home runs and 10 doubles. Despite a hectic season, the consensus in both Boston and Pawtucket is that he’€™s improved steadily over the last two-plus months.

‘€œSince he’s been back with us, he’s been lights out,’€ DiSarcina said. ‘€œHe’s one of our leaders. He’s the same every day. He comes and plays hard and he produces.’€

‘€œIt’€™s clear that he learned from his experience the first time where pitchers were attacking him in as the book on him started to circulate through the league,’€ said Red Sox manager John Farrell when Bradley was sent down on June 8. ‘€œI think he handled it well going down to be more conscious of the strike zone in. Days when he gets his starts, he played with confidence. I think as he continues to experience the up and downs, that’€™s part of where he’€™s at in his career right now. He’€™s learning each day he walks on the field.’€

Regardless of how long this stay in Pawtucket might last, Bradley takes a philosophical view of the game, one of the few things that’€™s been a constant for him even as he jumps from state to state to play it.

‘€œBall is just ball,’€ he said. ‘€œIt’s every day. It comes and goes.’€

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