Friends and associates hail Braden, game's new perfect pitcher
Not long after his young pitcher became just the 19th man in baseball history to throw a perfect game, Oakland A's general manager
That's something an all-world talent like
Baseball people who know him well call him a great kid from "the wrong side of the tracks'' in Stockton, Calif. He describes himself as undisciplined and frequently tardy as a young junior college pitcher. But he put in a winning bid for immortality with his improbable perfect game within days of his new and much more famous nemesis A-Rod quipping that he hoped Braden's 15 minutes of fame were about up.
There was little reason to suspect Braden would generate more headlines for anything this season than he already had for his dustup with A-Rod. It began during a late April game when Rodriguez ran over the top of what Braden later referred to as his mound while returning to first base, prompting a heated response from Braden, who had even more pointed words for the Yankees third baseman in the days leading up to his history-making start.
The incident has overshadowed Braden's amazing backstory. His mother died of melanoma at 39 while Braden was in high school, and thereafter he was raised by his grandmother,
Those close to Braden were quick to credit her on Sunday. "She did a great job,'' Beane said by phone. "He's a great kid and a smart kid with a quick wit. And he's an absolute gamer whose teammates love him.''
Braden also gives a lot of the credit for his turnaround to his no-nonsense coach at American River College,
Braden was late a couple times, but that's not surprising considering he was commuting a good distance to Sacramento in his unreliable 20-year-old jalopy before bouncing between friends' closer-to-campus apartments. His lateness to practice and weightlifting sessions nearly cost him his spot on the team. "I've got a "three strikes and you're out rule," recalled Higgins by phone on Sunday night. "When he had two strikes, I told him "You've got one more shot, and then you're out of here.'"
Somehow, Braden made it through, going 12-4 at American River and eventually landing at Texas Tech, where he did well enough to become, in 2004, a 24th-round draft choice of the A's, basically his hometown team. "It was a bumpy road," said Higgins, who listened to the perfect game on his car radio. "He didn't have it easy. I think he spent a couple nights in that pickup truck. He just found ways to get it done.''
That last sentence could describe Braden's entire journey to perfection. Higgins told Braden he thought he'd be successful at whatever he tried, but admitted he never foresaw a big-league career for Braden, whose fastball topped out at 86 mph in junior college. Even now, Higgins describes Braden as a "scrawny kid" -- Braden is listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, though he's still about 5-11, 170. He wasn't as big or as big a prospect as JuCo teammate
No one figured Braden was on par with Parra, but the A's had their eye on him anyway. The A's make different evaluations than other teams. They sometimes overlook physical limitations and have an eye for young pitching.
"He's kind of a
Braden thrived from the start in the A's organization, even if he was never seen by outsiders as a big-time prospect. He went 4-1 in 2004, his first year in the minors, and followed it up by going 15-5 with a 3.52 ERA at two levels in 2005, including a stint in his hometown with the Class-A Stockton Ports. That season, the A's named him their organization's Player of the Year but he was still only considered the 19th best prospect in their system by
Braden still doesn't get the pub of top A's youngsters
Whatever Dallas does is working. He was the A's Opening Day starter in 2009 and he has improved his ERA and WHIP every year in his four-year A's career. So far this season he is 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA and an 0.96 WHIP that is good for seventh in baseball, one spot below
Oakland loves that Braden is left-handed and that he is, in the words of Higgins, "a real competitor." They also love his changeup, which is superb and makes his high-80s four-seam fastball seem slightly faster. He also throws a slider, and Beane said Braden dabbled for a while with a screwball, making him the first big leaguer since former journeyman
All those traits could make his fame last quite awhile, well beyond his Mother's Day masterpiece. The timing of the perfecto drew a chuckle from those close to Braden because it came within days of A-Rod's comment that he didn't want to "extend [Braden's] 15 minutes of fame.'' In terms of fame, of course Braden won't ever surpass a spotlight magnet like A-Rod, who manages to find himself in the middle of everything. But what Braden's done will now be remembered by everyone in and around baseball. Some who know and love Braden still thought his heated reaction to A-Rod was a bit much.
"Jiminy Christmas,'' Higgins said he thought. "But that's just the way Dallas is. He's really intense, really sincere and really focused.''
"He went a little overboard, but he was trying to make a point," Kubota said. "Dallas is not going to back down from anybody if he feels he is wronged. That's what makes him a good pitcher.''
For one day at least, it helped make him a perfect pitcher, too.
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• Rodriguez tipped his cap to Braden, saying after learning of the perfect game: "Good for him.'' Good for A-Rod, too.