I can only imagine how many interviews Jackie’s done in the past few months, so I ask where he’s most comfortable to talk.
“The dugout,” he says naturally, grinning as he leads the way.
With great energy, Carolina’s outfielder jumps to sit on the bench’s top ledge.
“This is how we sit during the games,” Jackie shrugs.
Attempting to disguise my awkwardness by deciding which clichés to avoid, I ask what question he gets the most.
Without a second thought, Jackie replies: “‘What’s it feel like to be a champion?’” He doesn’t elaborate, and I don’t push for an answer.
We talk about his summer instead.
Although Jackie has been a well-known player since his freshman season, the last few months have catapulted him to VIP status in college baseball. This was catalyzed by the CWS in June, where Jackie quickly became a favorite subject of the commentators.
“I didn’t know about the announcers talking about me, but after the games I would get 140 text messages telling me I was being compared to certain people, that Nomar [Garciaparra] was saying good things,” Jackie says without a hint of arrogance. “I didn’t check my Facebook for five days in Omaha and ended up having around 1,100 friend requests. But I tried not to pay attention to all that and just focused on doing my best to help the team.”
Which is exactly what he did in the clutch. During his two out at-bat in the bottom of the 12th inning against Oklahoma, a critical moment for South Carolina, none of this hype phased him. Nothing did.
“To be honest, my mind was blank,” Jackie says. “I had not even thought that this could be the last out [of the season]. I just worked the count, got it into my favor and punched a hit through the right side.” He shakes his head in amazement. “It was a turning point, and I remember it like it was yesterday.”
From there, the Gamecocks rolled on to defeat Clemson, and finally, UCLA. Jackie earned the accolades of Most Outstanding Player and a spot on the All-Tournament Team. He and his teammates closed down the last game to ever be played in the historic Rosenblatt Stadium.
Glancing around our stadium, Jackie recalls the experience: “There was so much emotion from the players, the fans and the people in Omaha. [Rosenblatt] has been there for about 60 years, and there was just this feeling in the stadium.”
The 2010 College World Series marked the end of the Omaha park’s illustrious career, but served as the gamechanger for Jackie Bradley Jr’s. Since the tournament, he’s garnered national recognition for his stellar playing and estimates that he’s signed nearly 9,000 autographs. He has subsequently been touted as a top-15 draft pick for the MLB. However, the pros will have to wait.
Jackie fiddles with a nearby bat and says it’s always been his dream to play baseball. “But I’m just trying to take it one year at a time. I’m not focusing on it as a career yet. … I’m just having fun playing.” He smiles and adds, “It was a good June.”
When I comment in wonder at how these experiences made up only a month of his summer, he deflects the opportunity to boast and simply nods.
Starting in July, Jackie represented USC on the Collegiate National Team in Taiwan and Japan. His continuously strong numbers helped pave the way to a silver medal at the World University Baseball Championship in Tokyo.
Jackie had never traveled out of the country; he felt out of place and lost five pounds from the diet, but the journey gave Jackie perspective, especially in regard to baseball.
While in Tokyo, he was able to catch a few games and says he really grew to appreciate the commitment of Japanese players.
“It’s impressive, and they practice for so long. … Overall though, the trip made me appreciate the U.S. better, especially the food!”
Jackie returned to the U.S. in time for the fall semester and applied newfound energy to his studies, despite physical exhaustion.
“I think I played about 90 games over the course of this season and the summer,” he says, looking up. “If there was one question I wish people would have asked since the College World Series, it’s: ‘How tired are you?’”
Not too tired to travel another 450 miles to shake the hand of the president.
In recognition of their efforts in Omaha, the Gamecocks baseball team, along with other NCAA champions from the last year, was invited to attend an address given by President Obama at the White House. The president lauded the dedication of these student athletes, and his conscientiousness of their obstacles solidified Jackie’s outlook on work ethic.
“Time management is absolutely key,” Jackie says. “During the year, we only miss maybe three or four Fridays.”
As a third-year retail management student, Jackie knows that maintaining good grades is a challenge.
“It’s not easy, but it’s important,” he says.
I’m impressed when he then tells me his favorite class is accounting.
Between walking the White House lawn, touring Congress and visiting the Washington Nationals ballpark, Jackie’s time in D.C. constituted another noteworthy trip to the Capitol; in a former sojourn, he witnessed Michael Jordan’s last professional game as MJ played against his former team, the Chicago Bulls.
After meeting President Obama, Jackie was thrilled to return to Columbia. He is excited to continue his relationships with the team, his family and through service, the Carolina community. In his free time, he reads to children at local schools and speaks about his faith at churches. Jackie also keeps up with the family of Bayler Teal, a 7-year-old boy who was one of the team’s biggest supporters and whose life was tragically taken by cancer during Carolina’s CWS run. Jackie and the team dedicated their Omaha wins to Bayler.
Currently, the team is getting back into the swing of training, and Jackie and his teammates look forward to discovering what the new season holds – which includes parting with the “Avatar Spirit Stick,” their lucky charm during the CWS.
“I heard that somebody took it and that it’s in good care, but I think it’s officially retired,” Jackie muses. “This team has to come up with something new and develop its own identity.”
By the sound of their camaraderie, this won’t be a problem.
“In the dugout, we’re always listening to music and trying to guess each others’ walk-up songs. Coach Tanner is the serious one, but when he turns his back, we’re … joking around,” Jackie tells me.
From his tone, it is apparent that the 2011 campaign for Omaha has already started, and Jackie’s phenomenal summer has transitioned into a promising fall.
The grounds crew arrives to tend to the fi eld as I pack to leave, ending my closest stint to a career in college baseball. I tell Jackie the October release date for this issue and ask if he would like to say anything else. He pauses, thinks for a second, then adds:
“Happy birthday, Mom."