"Is a dream a lie that don't come true, or is it something worse ..." - Bruce Springsteen
Russell Branyan had a dream that looked like it might come true when he signed is first professional contact in 1994. and in his first full minor league season he hit 40 home runs.
When he signed last winter with the Seattle Mariners, he'd compiled 2,715 minor league at-bats - and 2,000 in the majors. Branyan had AAA baseball in 2007 and 2008 before general manager Jack Zduriencik picked him up.
What followed was the feel-good story of last spring. Given his first chance to play regularly, Branyan batted .333 last April, .317 in May and had 11 home runs by June 1. At the All-Star break, he was hitting .280 with 22 home runs.
What followed was, if not quite Shakesperian, spectacular in its cruelty. Branyan hit .193 after the All-Star break, battling a herniated disk. One game in Detroit he was tagged for an error on a ball that went through his legs.
It happens to all infielders, but I thought - watching from the press box - that Branyan looked like a man who couldn't bend over that night for a grounder. I asked him about it after the game, and he said he was fine.
Next day, he called me over to his locker and apologized for lying.
"I don't want it in the paper," he said. "It's my back, and I have good nights and bad. Last night was bad."
Mariners trainers kept Branyan as loose and comfortable as they could with heat, massage and anti-inflammatories. Branyan stayed in the lineup and hit five home runs in July, seven more in August.
On Aug. 29, the team put him on the disabled list. He never played another game as a Mariner.
This off-season was a story of two realities. The Mariners knew the risk of Branyan's back, but were willing to take it on for a modest raise over 2009. Branyan belived his season numbers - .251 with 31 home runs and 76 RBI in 116 games - were worth more.
He believed, for the first time in his career, he deserved a two-year deal. At age 34, he thought he had the right to ask.
Zduriencik in essence told Branyan to test the market and get back to him. Branyan hasn't had a multi-year offer yet. Hasn't had, other than Seattle's, a viable offer from any team.
Last week, the Mariners stopped waiting and acquired Casey Kotchman. Branyan remains unsigned, and it seems unlikely he'll land with a team that believed in him like the Mariners did last spring.
Whether he ever plays regularly again in the big leagues remains to be seen.
Branyan was a wonderful fit last season, a great teammate, a good man to talk with. Wishing him well doesn't seem enough, somehow. The feeling is, after 760 minor-league games, Branyan is going to have to return to AAA to prove to someone he's healhy.
None of the seven big-league teams he's played for are calling.
Now, a few links:
- While Banyan waits, the Giants have signed Aubrey Huff, 33, to a contract pending a physical.
- Former Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb sounds an awful lot like this will be his last year in Arizona before testing free agency.
- Don't look now, but Miguel Batista may land a job with the Colorado Rockies.
- Need a feel-good baseball story? Ian Kinsler and the Texas Rangers are kicking in $10,000 - and big-league equipment - to a Dallas high school vandalized over the holidays. Vandals stole or damaged the school's baseball equipment.
- Yes, the Reds have signed Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman to a $30 million contract after watching him in the WBC last year - and a bullpen session this winter. Mamas, let your babies grow up to throw 102 mph fastballs ...