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Huge ovation a reminder Red Sox fans have soft spot for Jackie Bradley Jr.

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Jackie Bradley Jr. has ridden the rollercoaster over nearly a decade in Boston, from the highs of a Gold Glove, All-Star appearance and ALCS MVP to the lows of a .198 batting average and his departure in free agency.

The prodigal outfielder has returned, however, and before Friday's home opener, Red Sox fans let him know just how much they've missed him. Bradley received by far the loudest ovation of any player during pregame introductions, a fact that both surprised and touched him.

"That was exciting," Bradley said. "To have that type of support, it means a lot. It lets you know that a lot of people are in your corner."

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It has been quite a journey for the former first round pick, who was selected 40th overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, the last run by Theo Epstein. He debuted in Yankee Stadium in 2013 and memorably walked three times, including two off CC Sabathia.

"It feels like yesterday," Bradley said. "I remember."

He started the All-Star Game in 2016 and appeared poised for stardom, but it never arrived. While Bradley's Gold Glove-caliber defense never waned -- he finally earned the award in 2018 -- his bat fluctuated like a seismograph, with periods of volcanic eruption interspersed between stretches of relative silence.

When he joined the Brewers in free agency last year, his Red Sox career appeared over. But chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom had other ideas, reacquiring Bradley and two prospects in a surprising deal for outfielder Hunter Renfroe. And thus he returns to Boston, where everybody absolutely knows his name.

 

"I'm thankful for all the cheers," Bradley said. "It's good to be back."

He might have something in the tank, yet. After beginning the season 0 for 11, he has recorded multiple hits in back-to-back games. His two-out double kickstarted the go-ahead rally vs. former teammate Eduardo Rodriguez on Wednesday in Detroit, and his double and bunt single accounted for much of the offense in Friday's 8-4 loss to the Twins.

The bunt was particularly brazen, given how most players treat the shift as an obstacle to be conquered, but he simply took what was there with the Red Sox trailing 6-2.

"It was open," he said. "I just wanted to take advantage of it. If they're going to give it to me, especially at that point in the game, we were down and we needed all the baserunners we could get, so might as well try to make something of it."

That sounds like a pretty good summation of the 31-year-old's approach in general. He has slid over to right field in deference to starting center fielder Kiké Hernández, and he's trying to find his stroke at the bottom of the order while playing primarily against right-handed pitching. Once a member of the Killer B's in the Red Sox outfield alongside Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi, he's now transitioning to more of a supporting veteran role.

The fans clearly respect his perseverance, and his beard now sports flecks of gray as if to illustrate his hard-earned wisdom.

"I've got more of that (gray) for sure," he said. "I think kids have something to do with that. You grow. You mature. It's been what, nine years? I would hope that anybody would be a little bit more different. You've seen a lot, been through a lot, and to still be here, I'm blessed, I'm fortunate, and I'm thankful."