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02/04/10 7:00 AM EST
Tribe's Brantley coming of age
Son of former Major Leaguer learned value of hard work
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
The dumbest thing Michael Brantley ever did? He didn't have to think long and hard about the question. Dumb and Brantley had one of their rare get-togethers the day he decided to show off his golf skills in the front yard. Brantley is a promising prospect for the Cleveland Indians now, but, at the time of this story, he was a 14-year-old kid with nothing better to do than demonstrate to a friend his ability to loft a ball over a neighboring home. He dropped the ball on his front lawn, drew the club back and then unwound rapidly. Trouble was, Brantley overestimated his abilities. "I didn't quite make it over the house," he said, a tad embarrassed even now. "I hit the roof. And in the process of hitting the roof, our next-door neighbor was a cop, and he was just going on duty. So he saw me swing a golf club, hit it and hit the roof. He came marching over, and I was so scared he was going to tell my mom and dad." Did he? "He sure did," Brantley said glumly. "I got in trouble for at least a month." Of course, on the list of dumb things that 14-year-old boys do, Brantley's little tale ranks definitively low. And that's pretty much the point. There is an air about the 22-year-old Brantley, who projects as the Tribe's regular left fielder in 2010, that defies his youth. Always has been, in fact. "I've always been told I'm mature for my age," he said. "That if you didn't know and had to guess, you'd think I was older. That's all due to how I was raised, growing up. I was always around older guys, and it taught me to grow up faster." These were no ordinary "older guys." These were professional ballplayers and coaches. The young Brantley was surrounded by them because his father, Mickey, was himself a big league outfielder and, in Michael's youth, a coach at the Major and Minor League levels in the Giants, Mets and Blue Jays systems. "I learned their maturity and ways, and I just kind of copied that," Michael said. All those learning experiences culminated in what transpired last September, when Brantley received his first promotion to the Majors and played and acted as if he had been there his entire life. Though he did not have a dominant season at the Triple-A level, he was a natural with the Tribe, collecting a hit in his first eight games and reaching base safely in 25 of 28 games played. This was, the Indians hope, the first step toward Brantley fulfilling the promise that made them target him in the July 2008 trade that sent CC Sabathia to the Brewers. Brantley came to the organization as a much-heralded prospect who some think can one day step into the leadoff role full-time. But if you're around Brantley, you get the sense that he didn't have to turn to baseball to be successful. His gumption and work ethic lead one to believe he would have been a success at any chosen career path. His lack of pretension about his talents is also palpable. "My mother and father really taught me the value of a dollar," he said. And what wasn't taught, Brantley learned. He'd say he learned it the hard way by busing tables in high school at a TGI Friday's near his Port St. Lucie, Fla., home. It was an inglorious occupation that Brantley still thinks about when he sees the money fans invest into their favorite sports teams. "It was hard-earned sweat," he said of that job. "Nobody wants to work at a restaurant. But I was around people all the time and got great people skills from it. And it was hard work. I had to go in each day and bust my butt just to make a couple dollars so I could buy a pair of shoes or go to the school dance. What I learned is how hard it is to earn a dollar." Now that he gets paid to do what he loves -- with the possibility of some hefty payments coming down the road -- Brantley remembers those lessons. And when he talks about his offseason, in which he has supplemented his winter conditioning with regular fishing trips and rounds of golf, he knows how blessed he is. "Baseball's a mentally tiring sport," he said. "When I'm out there fishing or golfing, it really relaxes me. Who can say they can do that two or three times a week? I can, and I'm very fortunate." Brantley is young enough that this perspective hasn't been challenged considerably yet. It will be, in time, and he's aware of the trappings of success and how they can change a person. But the kid who was once scolded by the officer next door likes to keep his mistakes to a minimum and his head on straight. "I'm always going to go about my life just like I am now," he said. "I enjoy playing for the fans. I'll shake every hand I can. Seeing smiles on kids' faces and playing for the fans? That's what this game is all about."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.