Jackie Bradley Jr.
In 2013, Jackie Bradley Jr. became just the second Boston minor league player in over 30 years to make
the Red Sox Opening Day roster out of spring training without Triple-A experience. (Shea Hillenbrand in 2001 was the other since Bruce Hurst did so in 1980).
Bradley offered a unique take on what it's like for every player in spring training.
"At the beginning of spring training, you're labeled as three different players," said Bradley. "You're labeled as a player who isn't going to make the team but you're there to make a great impression. Or you're labeled as a player who's trying to win a spot. Or you're labeled as a veteran player, a player who's going to get in his work.
"I saw myself as a player who was just trying to make an impression (in 2013). I wasn't competing for
a spot," Bradley added. "You never know what's going to happen. It was one of those opportunities where I pretty much played myself into making the team."
Instead of vice-versa.
Bradley split 2012 between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland and understandably, didn't have a
scintilla of an idea regarding what was going to transpire in the unforgettable spring of 2013, one that saw him hit a blistering .419 with a 1.120 OPS in 28 Grapefruit League games.
"At the time, (then-general manager) Ben Cherington and (former manager) John Farrell were telling me at
that particular moment, I was going to make the team and they felt like it would be lying to me if they said I wasn't one of the best 25 men they were going to take on their roster," said Bradley. "That definitely was a positive jolt and a spark for my confidence. I felt good about the way I played in that spring training."
Fast forward to April 1, 2013 - a date Bradley joined a pair of Red Sox greats in the team's record book. At the age of 22, he was the youngest Boston outfielder to start on Opening Day since Dwight Evans (21) in 1973. And he was Boston's youngest Opening Day left fielder to start since Carl Yastrzemski (22) in 1962.
As fate would have it, Bradley's debut came at Yankee Stadium.
"It was the new (stadium) and it was massive," said Bradley. "Yankee Stadium reminded me of a giant coliseum. I felt like they were going to release the lions and say, 'Go get 'em.' But it was great ...
definitely getting the experience of the so-called rivalry right off the bat.
"I believe we won that day (Boston prevailed, 8-2). Anytime you feel like you can help and win right away it's always a plus."
In retrospect what Bradley did was more than a "plus" because he wrote his name in the Major League
record book by becoming the first player in Major League history to draw three walks, score a run and
drive in a run during his debut since RBI became an official statistic in 1920.
Left-handed pitcher Robby Scott followed a somewhat unusual path to the major leagues. After pitching in independent ball in 2011 following his collegiate career at Florida State University, Boston signed him as a non-drafted free agent in August of 2011. He then pitched parts of six years in the Red Sox system until making his Major League debut a memorable one on September 2, 2016 in Oakland.
Scott blossomed in 2016 when he received Pawtucket's Most Valuable Pitcher Award - along with the Sullivan Tire Spirit Award (for Robby's incredible work in the community). Despite toiling for many years in the minors, Scott didn't feel getting the call offset any frustration he might have felt after spending so much time below the major-league level. "(Getting the call) just makes it all the more worth it," said Scott.
"The grind through the minor leagues is not an easy one. I took a different path by going to play independent ball before I even got into the organization. "At the end of the day, getting called into the office and being told 'Hey, you're going to the big leagues' was one of the proudest moments of my life and is something I'll never be able to forget," Scott added. As is invariably the case when September 1 rolls around - the day Major League teams can expand their rosters - Scott and the rest of the PawSox players were pondering their fate.
"We played at home and were kind of waiting around McCoy after the game," said Scott. "It was September 1 and nobody had been called up the night before so we were all kind of trying to figure out who's getting called up. After the game on the 1st, I came into the clubhouse and was getting ready to go in and shower, change and then leave. "
(PawSox manager Kevin Boles) came up to me and said, 'Don't leave before I talk to you.' Right then I knew something was up. I didn't know exactly what was going on. What they were trying to do was wait for all the media people to leave the clubhouse."
After sitting around for what seemed like an eternity, Scott was called into Boles' office where he was greeted by Pawtucket's coaches plus Red Sox Vice President of Player Development Ben Crockett.
"Ben was the one who gave me the news," said Scott. "Obviously, it was the greatest moment of my life."
The 6'2", 238 lbs. Miami native had just celebrated his 27th birthday days before his promotion. Did he ever doubt that such a day would come?
"Doubt, no," Scott said rather succinctly. "If I ever doubted I probably would have moved on from baseball. I still have the opportunity to put on a jersey every day and put on a pair of spikes and go to the baseball field for work. As long as I had that opportunity I knew there was still a chance. That's what I was basically telling myself. I've got a jersey, I've got a locker and I'm going to keep working."
Scott wasted little time in fitting in with the parent club. In seven relief appearances for the 2016 Boston club, he totaled seven scoreless innings - thus becoming just the second Red Sox pitcher since 1913 to begin his Major League career with as many as 7 straight scoreless outings (Drake Britton also did so in 2013).
"It's definitely something you think about at the minor-league level when you're sitting down there," said Scott. "How successful could I be at the big-league level if I could get that opportunity?
"Having that opportunity and succeeding is something that you always can build on. It definitely was something that kick-started my career at the major-league level. You're always looking to get better from here on out."
Outfielder Andrew Benintendi made his MLB debut on August 2, 2016 in Seattle. Fourteen months earlier, he was selected seventh overall in the 2015 June draft following a strong career at the University of Arkansas.
In this day and age, it's not uncommon for players to go from Double-A to the majors. That this happened to Benintendi did a world of good for his confidence.
"It makes me feel a lot more confident that they were confident in me if that makes sense," said Benintendi. "I had been hearing things like 'You could get called up from Double A.' But I definitely was excited
when I got that call."
At the time of his promotion to the Red Sox, Benintendi was hitting .295 with eight homers and 44 RBI in 63 games for Double-A Portland. He had begun the 2016 by tearing up the Carolina League with a .341 batting average in 34 games for Single-A Salem before joining the Sea Dogs on May 16.
"I was in Portland and I think it was around 10 at night," recalled Benintendi. "I got a call from (Cumberland, RI native and Red Sox Vice President/Major and Minor League Operations) Raquel Ferreira. My manager (Carlos Febles) called me and everything was a blur.
"I was told you're on a flight tomorrow at 7 in the morning to Seattle. I packed up all my stuff and had my mom fly in. The next thing I knew I was in Seattle getting ready for the game. It was crazy.
"I didn't really know what was coming," continued Benintendi. "I was moved to left field (where he became a fixture for Boston) for four games so I kind of connected the dots. But I never knew when it was going to be. I kept everything the same. I went about
my routine and got the call that night."
The first thing the Cincinnati native did was call his parents, Chris and Jill, who were sound asleep.
"I definitely woke them up," Benintendi said with a smile. "It probably was around 10:30 and they were asleep. But they were excited. They flew out there. I was glad I got to experience that with them."
Benintendi's debut, which came less than 14 months after being drafted by the Red Sox, occurred as a pinch-hitter.
"Around the fifth inning on that first day, I was told I might go in as a pinch hitter," said Benintendi. "I got some flips in the cage and (John) Farrell said, 'Hey, you're in.'"
Later in 2016, Benintendi would homer in his first playoff plate appearance in Game 1 of the 2016 ALDS in Cleveland, thus becoming the youngest Red Sox player ever (at 22 years, 92 days old) to hit a postseason homer.
Catcher Christian Vazquez received a not-too-subtle hint that he was going to Boston.
"I was in Columbus (with the PawSox in July of 2014) when (PawSox manager Kevin) Boles called me to his office and (Vice President of Player Development) Ben Crockett was there," said Vazquez.
"They threw me a Major League ball and asked me, 'What does that mean?' I read that it was a big league ball and Bolesy said, 'Welcome to the big leagues. You're going to the big show tomorrow.' My heart started to pump. It was an exciting moment. I was like, 'What happened here?"
Vazquez was voted to the 2014 International league mid-season All-Star Team but did not play in the Triple-A All-Star Game because he was called up on July 9 and became Boston's starting catcher.
Christian also had some fun with his parents after he got the call.
"I called my parents (in Puerto Rico)," he said.
"They told me 'We don't believe you.' My mom (Eileen Berrios) said that. Before that I was joking every day. 'Mom, they called me up to the big leagues' but I was joking. That time I was serious.
They didn't trust me but it was fun. My parents and grandmothers were there for my first game."
Two days after his debut, Vazquez collected his first Major League hit on July 11, 2014 in Houston. In that same game, the Puerto Rican native went 3-for-4 with two doubles, two runs, and three RBI. The Red Sox won each of Christian's first 5 starts behind the plate (July 9-21) as he became the first Boston catcher tow in each of his first 5 Major League games.
What transpired during spring training of 2015, however, gave Vazquez a greater appreciation of how difficult it is not only to make a major-league team but also to stay with that team.
He underwent Tommy John surgery on April 2, 2015 to repair his right elbow (an injury that happened during spring training) and he would miss the entire 2015 season. Vazquez rehabbed with the PawSox briefly to begin the 2016 season and was activated by
the Red Sox on April 15, 2016 (just over a year after his surgery).
"It was tough," understated Vazquez. "I was supposed to catch that year (2015) a lot and my elbow fractured. But I came back stronger and that's the key - never quit and stay with the faith. I think that helped me a lot."
If his 2017 is any indication, the 27-year-old Vazquez seems destined to be Boston's full-time catcher going forward. His .290 batting average in 99 games was outstanding enough, but couple that with an impressive caught stealing ratio of 42% (he threw
out 21 of 50 attempted base stealers in 2017) and he had indeed become the full package behind the plate.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.