Conrad takes hands-on approach
Tampa Bay's utility man eschews batting gloves at the plate
Brooks Conrad is a "Raw Dog," a nickname bestowed on him by one-time Braves teammate Chipper Jones. It's baseball slang for a player who hits bare-handed.
Unlike the vast majority of Major Leaguers, the Rays' utility infielder and pinch hitter eschews batting gloves.
"It's just a personal preference thing," said Conrad, whose parents named him after one of their favorite ballplayers, Hall of Fame Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson.
"I used batting gloves a little bit here and there in high school and college (at Arizona State)," Conrad said. "I used to take those big ol' grips they had off the metal bats and put the white tape on the skinnier bats.
"That tape used to tear my hands up a little bit, so I used batting gloves every now and then. But ever since I started using wood bats, I just love the feel in my hands."
Not all the time, however, as once in a while, when the bat connects with the ball in just the right way -- or, in this case, wrong way -- mainly closer to the knob end of the bat, the hitter can feel a distinct "sting" in his hands.
"But that happens whether you wear the gloves or not," said Conrad, 32, whose hands are thoroughly callused. "Nothing helps with that, man. The ball's coming in there so hard, you get jammed, it's going to hurt either way."
The calluses don't go away, either. They're always there.
"Every now and then I'll get a few blisters when I first start hitting in the offseason, but that's about it."
Conrad drew inspiration from one of his idols, Royals third baseman George Brett, also a Hall of Famer. He also did not use battings gloves. He used pine tar, a lot of it.
Conrad's route to Tampa Bay began with eight seasons in the Astros' Minor-League system after being drafted in the eighth round in 2001. Before the 2008 season, he signed as a free agent with the Athletics and finally made it to "The Show" that year -- for six games.
Then it was to the Braves for 2009-2011 via free agency before being non-tendered after last season. Conrad had Minor League contract offers from the Brewers and Rays.
He chose the Brewers, struggled badly, and was shipped to Triple-A Nashville and designated for assignment on June 19. Two days later, after more than 20 teams passed on him, the Rays claimed him off waivers.
"Love his eagerness," manager Joe Maddon told reporters after Conrad signed. "He's sans batting gloves every at-bat. Dirt on the hands, really good stuff. He plays hard, man. He's an eager guy. He's got skills, a switch hitter, great bat speed. Can play from third base, second base, some first base. Just love his attitude."
He began as a natural right-hander but his father, the head carpenter and maintenance man at a junior college, saw something in his son that prompted him to teach Brooks how to bat from the left side. Now, he's a switch hitter.
Conrad hit two pinch grand slams in his time with Atlanta, but for Braves fans his legacy is his three errors in Game 3 of the 2010 playoffs that pretty much led to the Giants taking the best-of-five series and eventually winning the World Series.
It was the worst moment of his career, he said, and he was praised for how he dealt with the aftermath.
"Got to own up to your mistakes," Conrad said. "That's how I was raised and that's how you have to handle the situations. You can't put the blame on anybody else. The only way to get through something like that is to get past it, own up to it and move on."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.