Join Date: Sep 2006
Re: Jay Bruce called up!!!!!
Bruce's premier premiere
BY BILL KOCH
If Reds outfielder Jay Bruce had followed his original plan, he would have been down in New Orleans on Tuesday night, finishing his junior year at Tulane University and getting ready to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Instead, 21/2 hours before making his major league debut at Great American Ball Park, Bruce stood before a swarm of reporters, stared into the bright lights of the TV cameras and talked about how thrilled he was to be in the major leagues.
"I'm pretty confident," Bruce said. "I think you have to be confident in order to be successful. I'm just going to take a positive attitude toward it and see what happens."
Bruce, 21, hasn't always been that confident. As the baseball draft approached near the end of his senior year at West Brook High School in Beaumont, Texas, he was convinced that he would be drafted no higher than the third round.
His mother, Martha, thought otherwise.
"He said, 'Mom, you don't know what you're talking about,' " Martha Bruce said.
In this case, mother knew best.
"Our plan was for Jay to go to Tulane," Martha Bruce said. "But we said if he gets drafted and the money is good enough that we have to back up a truck to unload it, we're going the other way."
Bruce was selected by the Reds in the first round as the 12th overall pick in the June 2005 draft. And yes, the truckload of money materialized in the form of a $1.8 million signing bonus.
"He graduated at the end of May," Martha Bruce said. "On June 16, we were putting him on a plane to go to Florida. We didn't have time to cut the string. It was really a hard thing for his dad and me both."
Martha Bruce, a teacher, and her husband, Joe, a master plumber, were on hand Tuesday night to watch Jay play his first game for the Reds, along with his sisters, Amy, 30, and Kellan, 26. It was the culmination of a long road that began when Bruce first played Tee Ball at the age of 3.
When he was 13, Bruce joined a select Little League team in Houston - a 90-minute drive from Beaumont - to play for former major league pitcher Doug Drabek.
As a sophomore in high school, playing on the West Brook varsity, he hit a home run that made his coach's jaw drop.
"The field was 310 feet down the right-field line," said Jacob Walton, the West Brook head coach who was an assistant when Bruce played there. "They had another field facing us. There were about 50 feet from that fence to the next fence. He hit the ball way to the first-base dugout. It was 500 feet easily.
"I was like, 'Oh, my God.' It was the farthest home run I think I've ever seen him hit. That clicked right there that we had something special, that we needed to get him going, get him trained the right way."
Bruce also pitched in high school, first as a starter and then as a closer his senior year. Walton said Bruce threw 94 mph, but his fastball paled in comparison with his hitting ability.
"He's got so much power," Walton said. "On the high school level, a lot of kids have power, but it's pull power. He had opposite-field power. That's very rare in high school. When you see that, you know something special is coming."
By Bruce's senior year, Walton said, professional scouts were flocking to Beaumont - 10 to 15 just to watch practice, 30 for games. Bruce hit .538 that spring with 12 home runs, 31 RBI and 13 stolen bases.
He was drafted by the Reds shortly thereafter, the truckload of money to follow.
"He was so excited," Martha Bruce said of her son. "I'm sure he was just in shock because we lived paycheck-to-paycheck. Sometimes we didn't have enough, but Jay had more than any of my other two children because he was the baby. He didn't feel the crunch of our lack of money. We would always find money to get him where he needed to go."
Bruce used some of his new-found wealth to pay off his parents' house and to help his sister, Amy, buy a house. Only then did he purchase his first car, a Denali SUV.
"He did everything for everybody else before he did anything for himself," his mother said.
Bruce entered professional baseball having been brought up to do his talking on the field. As a kid, riding home from a pizza party after a game, some of Bruce's teammates were bragging about their exploits on the field.
Martha Bruce, who was driving the car, later told Jay that she never wanted to hear such boasting from her son.
Bruce also gained perspective from his relationship with his sister Kellan, who has a mild mental handicap.
"I think as Jay got older, he realized after he went off and started playing the game on his own how lucky he was to have the opportunity he has," Martha Bruce said, "to realize what little-bitty things in life matter."
That perspective on life stands out to those who know Bruce well.
"He spends at least a week or two every offseason staying at my house," said Matt Sosnick, Bruce's agent. "He's just an incredibly warm, wonderful guy. He's the kind of guy you want to marry your sister.
"He's totally level-headed but he believes that unless he gets injured there's no chance that he's not going to make it and be a superstar. He's able to balance that strong belief in himself with an understanding that stuff changes very quickly."
It appeared after he was named Minor League Player of the Year last year by Baseball America and The Sporting News that Bruce was on his way to the big leagues. But he was bothered by a left quadriceps strain and hit only .262 in spring training.
He was sent back to Triple-A Louisville on March 20, 17 days after the Reds signed Corey Patterson to play center field.
"He felt like it was out of his control," Sosnick said. "At that point, he was going to focus on the things in his control. I think he realized hat Dusty Baker had a relationship with (Patterson) and had prior faith in him. For the time being, that was going to trump his being up there immediately."
Bruce was disappointed, but he committed himself to not letting the Reds' decision affect his play. He went to Louisville and hit .364 in 49 games, with 10 home runs and 37 RBI.
"No matter where I was, I had to play hard, I had to play my game," Bruce said. "Worrying about getting sent down wasn't going to help me any. It wasn't going to help me get back here. I just went down, played hard and took care of my business and just waited."
When Reds general manager Walt Jocketty saw Bruce rap out two hits with a home run in Louisville a week ago Sunday, he knew the Reds' prized recruit was ready.
"I liked his whole makeup, the way he approached the game," Jocketty said. "He's a very impressive young man. He's very talented. He's one of the most talented guys I've ever seen."
Now Bruce's time has arrived. Reds manager Dusty Baker promptly inserted him in the No. 2 spot in the batting order Tuesday and put him in center field.
"I'm glad he's here," Baker said. "He deserved this opportunity. He earned it. That's what I like. We asked him to go down and play hard and hone his skills, and that's what he did. I hope he's here for a long, long time. I want to see him play and develop and get better and better."
Of course, there have been plenty of can't-miss prospects who didn't make it when they reached the major leagues. Brandon Larson comes to mind in recent Reds history.
Certainly, Bruce is not a lock to become a star. But no one disputes his talent or his maturity at such a tender age.
"I feel like he was gifted," Martha Bruce said. "We taught him that God gave him that gift and now it's your obligation to put it into use."
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