NEW YORK — It’s been a whirlwind for Jackie Bradley Jr. Prior to this weekend, he’d never spent any time in New York City, having come no closer than Poughkeepsie for a wedding this past offseason. He’d never experienced Yankee Stadium.
And so, first impressions of the venue?
“It’s pretty small,” he deadpanned, before quickly giving up on the jest. “It’s huge. April Fool’s. It’s really nice. It’s big. I started looking up into the sky seeing how far it goes up.”
While on the one hand, Bradley was likely using that view to take stock of his unexpectedly rapid path to the big leagues — at 22, he’s the youngest Sox Opening Day left fielder since Carl Yastrzemski, and a year ago at this time, he learned that his first full pro season would start in High-A Salem rather than Single-A Greenville — there was also likely a more practical purpose to his undertaking.
After all, Bradley likes to calibrate his feel for a ballpark prior to the game. His first opportunity to occupy the broad left field expanse at Yankee Stadium represents one of the key reasons why he’s in the majors.
While Bradley’s phenomenal offensive performance (hitting .419 with a .507 OBP and .613 slugging mark) in spring training proved a head turner, the Sox recognize that it’s difficult to forecast precisely what shape his offensive adjustment to the big leagues will take. Hence, Bradley finds himself in the No. 8 spot in the lineup — the lowest spot in the order in which he could ever recall hitting (the prior low having been when he batted sixth for the University of South Carolina after returning from a wrist injury in 2011) — where expectations may be measured.
But even if he does not prove an immediate difference-maker in the lineup, the Sox believe that he can still prove a meaningful contributor to their chances of winning.
“What we’ve seen in spring training so far is a very good defender,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “[He is] a mature young player [at] 22 years of age. A very consistent approach at the plate and he clearly makes our outfield defense better today. What he produces offensively remains to be seen. We’ll certainly take what he did in spring training. We’re excited to start his career today.”
“More than anything,” added Farrell, “we want Jackie to just go out and play his game, be himself. I know those are very simple answers but so much is out of a given players control but if he performs well, these situations have a way to work themselves out.”
For his part, Bradley expressed enthusiasm for his first big league opportunity. After forcing his way into the big leagues with a remarkable spring training, he required little encouragement to wake up on Monday morning. His alarm was set for 7 a.m.; Bradley found himself wide awake 15 minutes before that, with a sense of self-confidence and enthusiasm.
“I’m ready,” Bradley pronounced. “I’m excited and I can’t really wait to play.”
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