PEORIA, Ariz. – The reputation that preceded Milton Bradley into the Seattle Mariners clubhouse was a lot more exciting than the man who showed up.
Bradley, the outfielder who was unhappy and then suspended in Chicago last season, has a history of occasional flare-ups – some with other players, most with the media.
When he walked into the Seattle clubhouse for the first time Monday, reporting in the morning for an afternoon physical, he was subjected to a Ken Griffey Jr. man-hug – and after that had trouble keeping a smile off his face.
“He can flat play,” Junior said. “He’s going to have fun – there’s no maybe about it. The main thing is communication, and he’ll have that here.”
It wasn’t the first Bradley-Griffey conversation.
“He called me in December and let me know that if there was anything I needed, he was there,” Bradley said, his voice quiet. “I wouldn’t expect anything less. For me, it’s Griffey and (Barry) Bonds. That’s my idols.
“That’s about as good as it gets for me, to be able to play with him.”
There were plenty of questions, not many of them leading, and Bradley stood in a media crowd and answered each so softly that soon everyone was leaning in toward him.
“I just want to play baseball. When everything is lined up right, I can play pretty good,” he said. “Hopefully, there won’t be a lot of distractions and things, and I can just play.
“It’s all the same thing, look forward to this, a fresh start, all that cliché stuff. I don’t believe in all that. Just go about your business. When people allow you to be you, and don’t steer you in a certain direction, or steer people’s thoughts in a certain direction, things will work out the way they’re supposed to.”
Acquired in a trade that sent Carlos Silva and cash to the Cubs, the 31-year-old Bradley arrived as more than an outfielder and occasional designated hitter. He’s likely the team’s opening day No. 3 hitter.
“Today was like the first day of school for Milton and a few other new faces,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “It’ll take a little bit of time.”
He was miserable last season in Chicago, and the feeling was mutual. He batted .257 in 124 games with a .378 on-base percentage, 12 home runs and 40 RBI. A year earlier, in Texas, Bradley batted .321 with a .436 OBP and produced 80 RBI in 126 games.
“I want to have fun. In the past, I wanted to win and I didn’t care whether I liked it or not,” he said. “It was all about winning, because that’s what it’s all about for me. At this point in my career, I want to enjoy it and have fun.”
Why was Texas more fun than, say, Chicago?
“It’s being in an environment that’s conducive for playing baseball. It’s a good environment down there, very cohesive, working together, no animosity, nobody trying to out-do the next guy, everybody playing ball and having fun and clicking together,” Bradley said.
And what has he heard about the 2010 Mariners?
“It’s along those same lines. The pitching staff is ridiculous, I’m excited about playing behind some guys who can throw strikes,” he said.
He’s also fond of Safeco Field.
“I’m a gap-to-gap hitter, and there are big gaps out there,” Bradley said.
When he thinks of the Mariners and 2010, however, Bradley’s initial focus didn’t get much further than the first man to greet him.
“I just think of all the memories and all the time I was watching baseball on TV, and Griffey made me jump out of my seat. I don’t get excited about a whole lot, but I get excited about Ken Griffey,” Bradley said.
“We’ve got mutual respect,” Griffey said. “I get it because I’m old and I’ve accomplished some things. Milton gets respect for what he’s done, too. He’s a professional, and he’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Lefty Ryan Feierabend, throwing again after Tommy John surgery in March, is on target to rejoin a rotation – probably Tacoma’s – in April. “I haven’t faced a hitter since September ’08 and I probably haven’t felt good since April of that year,” said the 24-year-old. “Right now, I’m feeling a little baseball soreness, and it feels great. The pain is long gone.” ... Infielder Jack Hannahan hadn’t caught since Little League, but had no problem putting on the gear again. “I knew where everything went,” he said, “but I had to ask Rob Johnson how to tighten a few things up.” ...
Rookie pitcher Nick Hill said watching veteran teammates in drills has been educational. “You watch them, and there’s a purpose to everything they do,” he said. “They take it seriously. They have fun, but they take the work seriously.” ... The Griffey family got a scare and a laugh from youngest son Tevin, whose ear infection sent him to the emergency room late Sunday. Doctors checked both ears – and found part of a crayon stuck in his good ear. The kicker? “That’s the second time he’s done that,” Junior said. .. .
Veteran catcher Josh Bard is impressed enough with rookie Adam Moore’s swing to bring this up: “They used to ask Stan Musial why he always smiled, and he’d say, ‘You’d smile too, if you knew you were going to hit .300.’ That’s Adam this year. He’s going to hit .300.” ... Former Mariners pitcher Cha-Seung Baek, released by the San Diego Padres in the fall, was in camp for a minor-league tryout, hoping to catch on with the Tacoma Rainiers. That decision could come today.
MILTON BRADLEY’S HITS
Some history of Milton Bradley, who is with his eighth team in 11 seasons:
• Traded to the Dodgers prior to the 2004 season following an altercation with Cleveland manager Eric Wedge.
• Tore his right anterior cruciate ligament while being restrained by Padres manager Bud Black during an argument with umpire Mike Winters on Sept. 23, 2007. Bradley said Winters swore at him, which was confirmed by an MLB investigation. Winters was suspended for the rest of the season.
• Started at designated hitter for the 2008 All-Star Game.
• Tried to confront Royals commentator Ryan Lefebvre in the press box following a game on June 11, 2008, after what Bradley perceived as a negative comment by Lefebvre. He was held back by his manager and general manager.
• Suspended for two games (later cut in half) for making contact with umpire Larry Vanover on April 16, 2009.
• Caught a fly ball with one out against the Twins on June 12, 2009. Thinking it was the third out, Bradley threw the ball into the stands, allowing the two baserunners to advance two bases.
• Told by Cubs manager Lou Piniella to leave the dugout and go home on June 26, 2009. The two later got into an argument in the locker room.
• The Cubs suspended Bradley for the rest of the season on Sept. 20, 2009.
• Manufactured popular games such as Battleship, Connect Four, The Game of Life, Twister, Yahtzee and Hungry Hungry Hippos (whoops, that’s the Milton Bradley Company).