BRAINTREE — For as quickly as we can discern players who have trouble with Boston’s stage, we do not always point out those who move with aplomb. Demonstrative voices are usually recognized, while the understated can slip by.
Jackie Bradley Jr. was an easy player for fans and media members to offer up in trades this winter. He had a down 2017, in part because of injuries, although his health wasn’t often talked about, in part because he didn’t want it to be. The Red Sox did indeed discuss deals involving him, but, they discuss a lot of things.
The most pertinent discussion is always performance-related. To that end, there’s clear incentive to keep Bradley. He’s an excellent center fielder, with needed pop, under control through 2020. The Red Sox would be selling low if they moved him.
So let's go beyond the field.
Two points are striking: how well Bradley fits in Boston, and how little that seems to factor into the discussion about his future.
Bradley looks and indeed feels comfortable on the stage. He just doesn’t always seek it. (One social media post of Bradley's expressing unhappiness with broadcaster Dennis Eckersley is negligible now.)
On Wednesday, he was literally on a stage in Braintree, at Thayer Academy, talking to middle school kids from that school and Martin Luther King Jr. school. The subject matter, Jackie Robinson and race, wasn’t easy. Bradley was more than a willing participant, confidently so.
“I just try to be myself. I just try to be myself and enjoy the moment,” Bradley said afterward. “I feel like if I can help, then I can help. I’m not I guess afraid of speaking. Talking out, talking in large crowds. I’m comfortable.
"I would say I [have always been this way]. I’m very much an introvert though, which is weird. I stay out of the limelight, and I’m not very I guess, so-called, outgoing. But… I just like to be treated how I want to be treated. It all stems down to that. No matter what anybody does, I’m still going to try to treat you with respect. And it’s only right. That’s what God would want me to do.”
When the Sox were planning the school visit as their 16th annual celebration of Robinson’s birthday, there was a reason they came to Bradley.
The team does a ton of community events throughout the year. Sometimes, the players who participate do so as a matter of convenience and scheduling, at the request of the club. Other times, players will feel moved by a specific platform or event.
Bradley’s case is the latter.
Between the Adam Jones incident, the anti-racism banner’s unfurling over the Green Monster and the plan to rename Yawkey Way, race has been a loud conversation for the Red Sox in the past year. Passing on a public discussion about it — even one that was broad as this was — would have been understandable.
"I love how fast the Red Sox took action after the whole AJ incident," Bradley said afterward. "They nipped it in the bud really quick. And that was special."
Bradley, Sox alum Tommy Harper and others took a bevy of questions on Robinson’s legacy and confronting racism.
“I think about [these issues] a lot. I’ve read, seen so many documentaries, on not only Jackie Robinson,” Bradley said. “I always say, you want to focus on history in order to keep it from repeating, or something to that matter. I always like to know what it was like in the past. Compared to what it is now. Because it allows us to see how far we’ve come.”
During the talk, Harper was telling the famous story that some middle school kids may not yet have heard, about Pee Wee Reese putting his shoulder around Robinson in the face of hatred.
Bradley, seated next to Harper, coolly slipped his right arm around Harper as Harper neared the story's payoff.
“Honestly, if I were to go back to Jackie Robinson’s time, I would just want to be there for him,” Bradley told the crowd at one point, beckoning for the microphone. “Knowing that you have someone else there with you going through the same struggles allows you to be stronger amongst each other and amongst other people as well. You know when people come together, you create this amazing bond and strength within one another.”
There may be a saccharine sound here, but the discussion was earnest on all ends. The students' questions were impressive, the answers equally as thoughtful.
Harper recalled seeing Bradley in Pawtucket, and how unchanged Bradley has been in his time as a big leaguer, despite going down to the minors. Indeed, Bradley's demeanor does appear the same as it did in 2013.
Ultimately, in Bradley, the Sox have a homegrown All-Star who won a World Series and worked through a demotion.
He turns 28 in April. He's not exactly a kid anymore, but he can perform at a high level and set an example.
"I grew up watching David Ortiz,” Bradley told the crowd. “It was an honor getting to play with him for three years — three, four years. Wow, you know he was not only an amazing player, great teammate, great friend, became a brother to us as a team. So, not only was he very impactful on the field, he was off the field as well, whether it was talking with us, taking care of us, showing us the ropes. He was a very special person.”
Bradley may not grab the mic like Ortiz. But anyone who falls short of Ortiz's extroversion should not be dismissed as negligible when it comes to clubhouse culture, leadership and simply fitting into Boston. Bradley fits.