PEORIA, Ariz. - Milton Bradley came to camp with the Seattle Mariners intent on leaving the outside world and its dangers and complications behind, but the best of intentions only go so far.
“For me here, it needs to be about baseball. Baseball is what I do best,” Bradley said Tuesday. “I’m 100 percent focused.”
Which isn’t to say he’s deaf.
On Sunday, in the annual charity game between Seattle and San Diego, Bradley was introduced prior to his first at-bat of the spring and a fan down the first-base line booed.
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Did Bradley hear him?
“Yeah, I heard him. One guy, and no one joined him,” Bradley said. “Today there was one guy in the outfield, yelling ‘Drop the ball’ and ‘Nice baserunning.’ When self-doubt creeps in, you hear those voices a little more loudly. The key is not to let them in.
“I figure I had one guy like that and a stadium full of people behind me.”
Three games into spring training is a bit early to declare Bradley a changed man, but he went 3-for-3 with two RBI and a stolen base in the Mariners’ 5-4 victory over the Texas Rangers on Tuesday – and at least his swing had changed.
“I’ve been able to get rid of some bad habits I’d developed last year,” he said. “I’d been coming around the ball, now I’m staying on it and hitting it where it’s pitched.
“In camp, whether it’s been in the cage or on the field, the work has been about the work, not the result. Work on timing, on your stroke, on your follow through, on your finish – and do it every day.”
Manager Eric Wedge and his staff have noticed Bradley’s efforts.
“He’s coming early and really working hard. He just needs to be patient and let the game come to him, and that’s what I think you’re seeing,” Wedge said. “He’s having a good time. He’s enjoying himself, he’s enjoying his teammates. I love his work ethic. His approach has been good. I just want him to sustain that.”
Bradley and Wedge had a famously poor relationship in Cleveland back in 2002, one that led to Bradley being traded. Bradley said he has learned a great deal since then – including the fact that he didn’t know everything.
“When we were together before, I didn’t want to hear it. Now, I hear it and I know it’s not personal, even if he gets in your face. He’s trying to make you better,” Bradley said. “Wedge will get the most out of everybody on this team. He’ll get the most from me.
“Coming into camp, I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself, but there’s a certain amount of accountability to this team. It was the offensive side where we needed the most help.”
Bradley didn’t want to talk about his surgically repaired knee last week but has been a man in motion since arriving.
“Why didn’t I want to talk about my knee?” Bradley said. “ ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it’ – that’s my motto.”
On a club with plenty of rookies, including outfielders Greg Halman, Carlos Peguero and Johermyn Chavez, Bradley has been seen laughing and talking – and all three clearly enjoy being around him.
“I’m a veteran guy, but I once was a young guy, and when I was veterans took care of me – guys like Ellis Burks, Eddie Murray, Omar Vizquel, Roberto Alomar,” Bradley said. “I’m quiet, but guys were there for me, so I feel an obligation to be there for them now. You show respect, you get respect back.”
Which may help explain his new relationship with Wedge.
“This is my 13th, 14th spring, so I know what to expect,” Bradley said. “I played for Wedge before, and you’d better be ready to work when you get here.”
Adam Kennedy homered as Seattle beat Texas, 5-4, in Peoria. Veteran Nate Robertson started and pitched two scoreless innings, and rookie Josh Lueke got the win with a scoreless inning of relief. Ichiro Suzuki singled and stole his first base and yet another rookie – catcher Steven Baron – homered. In three spring games, Mariners rookies have hit four home runs. ... Felix Hernandez will pitch a simulated game on the practice fields Thursday and, a day later, Jason Vargas will do the same. The Mariners say holding both pitchers back and getting in controlled work is more efficient than letting either pitch a few early Cactus League innings. ... Franklin Gutierrez started his first game. “I felt great out there,” he said. “I’m a little tired now.”
Seattle plays the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 12:05 p.m. Probable starting pitchers: Seattle’s Michael Pineda vs. Arizona’s Aaron Heilman.