- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Talk to Jackie Bradley Jr. for even a few minutes, see the serenity in his eyes, the unwavering directness of his gaze, and hear the calmness in his voice, and you begin to have doubts. Not about the man. About the calendar, which tells you that Bradley does not turn 24 until April 19, about a month from now.
"I'm not sure what they're going to do,'' Bradley said Wednesday night about where he stands in the Red Sox' plans, 11 days from the regular-season opener. "Whatever they do, I'm confident, knowing I have peace in whatever happens.
"It's my personality. You can't really control those decisions. I'm just going to stay at peace, keep playing, keep getting better. I'm a long ways away from getting to where I want to be. Just keep working.''
Yes, you all have been hearing about Bradley's maturity level since he burst upon the scene last spring, the sensation of Red Sox camp who made the jump from Class A to the major leagues in one season in what felt like one dazzling leap. The Red Sox didn't worry if he crashed and burned -- which is how the early promotion played out.
He wasn't ready, a fact painfully revealed by pitchers who exposed him as overmatched. The Sox assured one and all that Bradley could deal with that disappointment, and he did. He went to Triple-A Pawtucket, punched in, and went back to work, his approach and attitude unaffected by the humbler address.
It still seemed all laid out for him. The Red Sox, confident that they had a worthy successor to Jacoby Ellsbury in center field, did not go to great lengths to keep Ellsbury from going to the Yankees in free agency. They had anticipated a parting, and because they had Bradley in the wings, were confident that they were prepared for it.
But here we are, nine days from the Sox breaking camp in Florida, and there has been a dramatic -- and wildly unexpected -- change in course. Grady Sizemore has stepped off Sunset Boulevard like a forgotten silent-movie star and given every indication that despite seven surgeries and a two-year absence from the game that yes, Mr. DeMille, he is ready for another close-up, a three-time All-Star seemingly reborn at age 31. Maybe this will all prove illusionary, and Sizemore's battered body will not hold up under the unceasing demands of a six-month grind, but for now, he looms as the new Sox center fielder and leadoff man.
Manager John Farrell still insists there is a competition for the job, but at this stage, Sizemore is not competing with Bradley. The battle is within, demonstrating in these last days that physically, he can endure.
If this all comes as a crushing disappointment to Bradley, he has an odd way of showing it. His dream is within reach, and it is about to be snatched away by a guy who wasn't on anyone's radar until just before camp, and he's talking about peace?
Well, first understand that Bradley is not conceding anything yet. Until he's told otherwise, he believes he remains in the running for the job. He remembers that last spring, the Sox had left Florida and were in midair, flying to New York, when Farrell told him that he would be starting in left field against the Yankees on Opening Day, the youngest Sox outfielder to start an opener since a 21-year-old Dwight Evans in 1973.
"Your guess is my guess,'' he said when asked if he thought the Sox had already made a decision. "As long as I've been in the organization, I've always known something at the last second. I guess it's a protection thing.''
Protection, in the sense that the Red Sox allow for the unforeseen to happen. It's the same reason why Farrell hasn't announced what is obvious to everyone, that Jon Lester will pitch the opener against the Orioles. There is no upside to announcing that Sizemore has won the job, or even the favorite to win the job, until the Sox see how he holds up in the final week.
"They have their way of doing things,'' Bradley said. "I guess you've got to respect it.''
Earlier this winter, when Bradley went to Portland for the annual hot stove dinner conducted by the Double-A Sea Dogs, he told Portland Press-Herald reporter Kevin Thomas that the Red Sox were not going to just give him the job. Did he already have a sense then that Sizemore was looming in his path? "I knew he was going to be here, of course,'' Bradley said. "We all heard about the signing.
"But I was talking more in a general sense. I feel like everything that you do in life is earned, not really given to you, especially in such a competitive sport. If you're here in these type of situations, you earn the opportunity to be here. It's one of those things where I feel like it's not going to be given to me. It's not going to be given to Grady. It's going to be something that is earned.''
Bradley's spring has borne scant resemblance to last year's, when he was a line drive machine, batting .417, and displaying the skills afield that marked him as the best defensive outfielder in the Red Sox' system. After doubling in three trips Wednesday night against the Pirates, he is batting .200, and has struck out a team-high dozen times in 40 at-bats, including a third-strike swing at a pitch in the dirt Wednesday. But if the numbers may have been deceptively good last spring, Bradley maintains that they hardly tell the story of this spring.
"It feels like another spring training to me,'' he said. "Just going out there, trying to swing, get all the timing stuff right, prepare for the season, the real season.
"Honestly, I feel like I've been driving the ball, hitting the ball hard all spring. Sometimes maybe it's been right at people, but I felt confident knowing I put a good swing on it and hit it hard. I've been barreling up balls. At least I know I had a quality at-bat and that's what I focus on, to be more consistent with quality at-bats, and hopefully it will carry over to the actual season.''
And what does he think of his rival?
"He's amazing,'' Bradley said of Sizemore. "He. Is. Amazing. I enjoy being around him.''
There is an old-soul aspect to Bradley, a trait he says has been remarked upon before. He is not surprised when someone mentions it. "Definitely, I definitely feel like that,'' he said. "I think it started at a young age. My parents divorced when I was young. They're fine, but just going through all of that, to keep pushing. Everybody goes through some things. The tough ones survive. They keep pushing through it.''
During the rough times, Bradley said he drew very close to his grandparents, a great source of comfort and stability for him. Listen closely, you can hear the influence of a previous generation.
"There have been a lot of people who have been through a lot worse things than I have,'' Bradley said, "so it's just that appreciation. It's always been my personality. Of course, I joke around a lot, but there is a time and place for everything.''
So, how is it that he is at peace with all of this, and what does it really mean?
"I would say it's more a peace of perspective,'' he said. "Just a perspective on life that I carry [beyond] baseball. Just being thankful for a lot of opportunities that I've been able to achieve, overcoming obstacles. I feel like it's all a blessing. I feel like whenever the time, it'll be there.
"Of course there's always disappointment, you want to do better, you want to play in the major leagues. But at the end of the day, I'll have peace of mind, knowing that I'm blessed with the talents I have. When everything starts clicking, I know it's going to be a fun ride.''
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