Jay Bruce spent the entire 2006 season with the Dayton Dragons, appearing in 117 games and, at age 19, demonstrating the abilities that would one day make him a Major League All-Star. Those who remember Bruce in Dayton in 2006 recall his talent, but when they speak of Bruce, their comments often focus on the person as much as the player.
Bruce is remembered as the "humble star," whose friendly, uplifting personality made as much of an impression on his fans as his accomplishments on the field.
"Even though he was the focal point of the team from a prospect standpoint, he was just one of the guys in the clubhouse," recalls Mike Vander Woude, the Dragons broadcaster from 2000-'07. "I saw him again in 2008 when he got to Triple-A in Louisville and nothing had changed. Same outgoing, yet humble and polite person that he was with the Dragons a few years earlier."
Bruce was selected by the Reds in the first round of the 2005 draft out of West Brook High School in Beaumont, Texas. It has been reported that 30 scouts attended every game of Bruce's senior season in high school when he was a candidate for National High School Player of the Year. The Reds took Bruce with the 12th overall selection of the '05 draft. He played in 54 games at the Rookie-level in the Reds system later that summer.
Bruce made his Dragons debut on opening night, April 6, 2006 at Fifth Third Field, collecting two hits in that game, and then following with two more hits in each of his next two contests. On May 8, he belted two home runs in the same game for the Dragons in Dayton against Cedar Rapids. His home run total reached 10 before the end of May.
On June 20, Bruce led the Eastern Division to a 7-1 win in the Midwest League All-Star Game and was selected as the "Star of Stars" as the game's Most Valuable Player. He collected three hits including a home run in the game.
Vander Woude felt that Bruce compared favorably with other stars that had already passed through the league and then had gone on to enjoy success in the Majors.
"It was pretty obvious that he had the chance to become a very special player."
In July of that season, Dayton Daily News columnist Tom Archdeacon profiled Bruce's special relationship with his sister Kellen, who was born with mental and developmental disabilities. Archdeacon's story brought Bruce's upbeat nature to light for many fans. Archdeacon quoted Bruce's father, Joe, who explained that Jay and Kellen spoke by telephone on a daily basis.
"(Every night) Jay and his sister tell each other good night and 'I love you," Joe said. "And each morning Kellan wants to know 'Is Jay playing today? Is he doing OK?"
According to Archdeacon's story, Bruce, while still a young Minor League player, utilized his monetary signing bonus and "paid off his parents' house, bought them a new car and bought his oldest sister Amy and her family a new home. As for Kellan, Jay said, 'She'll never have to worry about anything, never have to go without."
Years later, now established as a Major Leaguer, Jay Bruce, in tribute to his sister, provides 30 Reds tickets per month to organizations like the Special Olympics and the Down's Syndrome Association. Those efforts, and many more like them, led to Bruce being selected as the Reds 2011 nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award for community service.
Bruce finished his season in Dayton in 2006 with a batting average of .291 with 16 home runs and 91 runs batted in. He was selected to the Midwest League's Full-Season All-Star team. After another big year in 2007 when he was selected as the Player of the Year for all of Minor League Baseball, he was promoted to the Reds in 2008.
On May 27, 2008, Bruce made his big league debut for the Reds, collecting three hits in a win over the Pirates. He reached base safely in the first six plate appearances of his career, the longest streak to open a career in the Major Leagues in 31 years. In his first seven games with the Reds, he went 15 for 26 (.577) with three home runs including a game-winning walk-off shot against the Braves.
Bruce played in the Major League All-Star Game in 2011 and again in 2012. He was also one of three outfielders selected for the National League Silver Slugger Award in 2012, the first Reds outfielder to earn the honor in 23 years, and he finished third in the N.L. in home runs with 34. Defensively, Bruce has finished in the top three in the league in putouts by a right fielder for three straight seasons and was a finalist for a Gold Glove award in 2012.
Just how productive has Bruce been over the course of his career? He is the only player in Major League history to hit at least 20 home runs as a rookie and then increase the total over each of the next four seasons. He leads all Major League players under the age of 26 in career home runs and career RBI. His 144 home runs before age 26 ranks third in Reds history, trailing only Frank Robinson and Johnny Bench, two first-ballot hall-of-famers.
In 2013, "Brian Wilson Field" will open in the Cincinnati area. Brian Wilson was a Reds scout, one of the many who shadowed Jay Bruce during his high school career in Texas. Wilson's reports on Bruce led to the selection of Jay by the Reds in the first round in 2005, almost exactly one year before Wilson died of a heart attack at the young age of 33. When Wilson signed Bruce to his first professional contract, he told Jay to remember where he came from. Bruce chose to honor Wilson by funding the new ballpark, part of the Reds Rookie Success League.
Jay Bruce was the 25th Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues. His impact on the field, and off, would make any Dragons fan proud.
"He was as friendly as any guy that has ever played here," recalls Marc Katz of the Dayton Daily News of his time working with Bruce at Fifth Third Field. "Everyone who watched the games could see that he had Major League ability, but he never wanted to talk about himself. He never came off as the least bit pretentious. He always had time for the fans. And when I talk to him now, he has not changed. He'll ask how my family is doing. That's Jay Bruce."
Click Here to read the article, "Jay Bruce generosity knows no bounds" by Paul Daugherty
Click Here to read Mark Sheldon's story about Jay Bruce's nomination for the Roberto Clemente Award
Click Here for Jay Bruce's career statistics, photos, and video clips.
Click Here for Jay Bruce's Minor League Statistics
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.