Royals coach Bradshaw super in his own way
Minor League instructor quarterbacks young hitting prospects
KANSAS CITY -- Sure, the Royals' Terry Bradshaw often gets mail intended for the other Terry Bradshaw -- you know, the one who won all those Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"About two weeks ago, I got a 5-by-7 Terry Bradshaw dropping-back-in-the-pocket picture that somebody wanted me to sign," Bradshaw said. "I mailed it back with a note. I said, 'Right guy, wrong sport.'"
Somehow, the fan obtained the baseball Bradshaw's address in Prince George, Va.
"I've gotten his stuff for years," Bradshaw said. "My wife, Cynthia, asked me the other day, 'You think he gets any of your stuff?' And I said, 'I doubt it.' The reason why I said that is I'm sure that his address can't be as easy to get as my address."
A former Major League outfielder, Bradshaw gets a few requests of his own. And while that other Bradshaw is still with football as a TV analyst, the Royals' Bradshaw is still with baseball as hitting coach for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.
As MLB.com celebrates Black History Month, we tell Bradshaw's story, from playing stickball as a kid in Virginia to becoming a big league prospect, from a stop in the big leagues to a career in the Royals organization.
The 42-year-old's baseball trek began in the dusty fields of tiny Zuni, Va., not far from the Tidewater area.
"A lot of cousins and friends in the neighborhood," Bradshaw said. "Back then, we played a lot of stickball in the fields and throwing what we called dirt bombs at each other. We did a lot of riding bikes -- you know, real outdoors. Just a whole lot of people out there having fun, all day long."
He thinks about that sometimes when talking to his son Marcus, 6, and especially to his elder son Montae, 14.
"My son asks me all the time, 'Dad, who taught you how to play baseball, who taught you how to play basketball?' I can't ever remember anybody out in the backyard with me explaining the swing to me, or explaining the jump shot or teaching me how to tackle," Bradshaw said. "It was just being out there and trial-and-error. You're doing it on a daily basis since you were 7 or 8 years old."
Bradshaw didn't play any organized ball until he was about 12. Later, at Windsor High, a small school, he was playing shortstop when some scouts came around to assess a pitcher. But it was Bradshaw who caught their attention. He became a 17th-round Draft pick of the New York Yankees in 1987 -- yet, at 18, he decided not to sign.
"I didn't think I was as good as maybe they thought I was," he said.
Instead, Bradshaw went to Norfolk State and played three years for coach Marty Miller, who is now the school's athletic director.
"Marty Miller was great to be around and taught me a lot about the game," he said.
On June 4, 1990, another fabled franchise drafted Bradshaw in the ninth round as an outfielder. Ten days later, he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals.
A left-handed hitter with speed and some power, Bradshaw worked his way up the Cardinals' system -- with a one-year break in 1992 for knee surgery -- and spent three-plus seasons with Triple-A Louisville. During two of those seasons, he logged time with the Major League club. He got into a total of 34 games for St. Louis in 1995-96, posting a .262 average.
"I was lucky to be around two Hall of Fame managers [Joe Torre and Tony La Russa]," Bradshaw said.
Along the way, Bradshaw got help from Minor League managers and coaches like Gaylen Pitts, Joe Pettini, Johnny Lewis and Bake McBride.
"Spring Training was like a fantasy camp for me, with the likes of Lou Brock around, Bob Gibson and Red Schoendienst in the clubhouse. Those guys were regulars every year at Major League camp," Bradshaw said. "So I had a chance to be around them, talk to them and listen to their stories. It was inspirational and amazing to be around these guys."
Although Bradshaw's big league career was brief, it was memorable.
"I got a taste of that Cardinal legacy," he said. "And just sitting in the back of the bus listening to Ozzie Smith, a Hall of Fame shortstop, telling stories. I mean that's a memory that I'll never forget. This list goes on of Cardinal greats when I came up through that system. And all of them were real big in my development."
Bradshaw's first association with the Royals came in 1998, when he signed with the club as a Minor League free agent. He remembered a conversation at Baseball City, Fla., with Allard Baird, then special assistant to general manager Herk Robinson.
"I went over and played a few Spring Training games for Tony Muser, who was manager at the time," Bradshaw said, "and on the Minor League field one day, Allard was out there and he said, 'A lot of guys don't like to hear this. I'm not saying you're done playing baseball, but whenever you finish playing, give us a call and we'll be glad to have you over here as a coach.' At the time, you don't think anything of it, you think you have another 10 years left of playing."
But Bradshaw had just one year left -- he spent 1999 with the Expos' Triple-A club in Ottawa -- and decided that at 30 years old, his aching knees weren't going to let him keep up with the younger players. He called the Royals and was hired. Bradshaw was assigned to Charleston, W. Va., in the South Atlantic League to be the hitting coach and began a 12-year run with the Kansas City organization.
Last year was a big one for Bradshaw. Not only did the Naturals win the Texas League championship, but his batters led the Double-A league with a .291 average, a whopping 27 points higher than the next-best club. He had the Royals' two hottest hitting prospects, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, during the season. But like a lot of coaches, Bradshaw takes special pleasure in the progress of less-talked-about players -- notably outfielders Derrick Robinson and Paulo Orlando.
Robinson, a speedster noted for high stolen-base totals, jumped from .239 in Class A ball to .286 in Double-A. Orlando, acquired from the Chicago White Sox two years ago, blossomed with a 13-homer, .305 season.
"[Bradshaw is] a tremendous asset to our development staff. He's excellent with the hitters, great personality, one-on-one excellent with the kids -- they love being around him," said J.J. Picollo, Royals assistant general manager for scouting and player development. "It seems like anytime we send a group of hitters to wherever he is -- he was in Triple-A for a while and now is in Double-A -- they make a pretty significant jump. But, as important as it is what he does with the players, it's the personality and what he represents that we respect as much as anything."
Bradshaw says he's met some great people during his career, but one person he's never met is that other Terry Bradshaw. Yet he's always been something of a shadow.
Once when the Cardinals were in Pittsburgh, Bradshaw had some contact lenses shipped to the team hotel. Apparently the box passed through the hands of Steelers fans.
"They'd written all over it, 'Great job in the Super Bowls.' 'We love you, man.' 'Thanks for the four Super Bowls.' They thought it was the quarterback," Bradshaw said.
Then there was the night in 1996 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh when Bradshaw went 4-for-4 with three RBIs.
"And at the bottom of the scoreboard, they put, 'And not the quarterback,'" he recalled with a laugh.
Given that connection, the baseball Bradshaw had a crazy idea during his playing career.
"I always thought that maybe someday the Pirates would try to make a trade for me, just because of the namesake," Bradshaw said. "Why don't they trade for me? Then I thought about it and said, 'Probably because they had [Barry] Bonds.'"
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.