Dragons' star Bruce inspired by his sister
By Tom Archdeacon
It's fitting he showed her a way to new heights — that he got her on that escalator — after all, she's done the same for him her whole life.
This is the story of Dayton Dragons' 19-year-old outfielder Jay Bruce — the Cincinnati Reds No. 1 draft pick last year, a young man who signed for $1.8 million and now is one of the Midwest League's top-rated players in almost every offensive category.
It's the story of his 24-year-old sister Kellan, who — born with the umbilical cord wrapped twice around her neck — suffered some damage to her brain, but not to her spirit.
And it's also testimony of how Bruce — as Dragons manager Billy Gardner Jr. put it — "was brought up right. If you didn't already know, you wouldn't be able to tell he's a first-round kid with a lot of money. Some (money) guys stick out like a sore thumb. They flaunt it. Jay Bruce is not that type of kid. He seems to understand what's important."
That's where Kellan comes in. She's taught him to appreciate what you got in life. With her unconditional love and support, she's also reinforced the importance of family.
And that brings us to the escalator.
"She'd never ridden on one ... was scared to death of them," Joe Bruce said of his daughter. "But last season when Jay played in Sarasota, Fla., in the Gulf Coast League (GCL), we went to a nice restaurant where you had to take an escalator. She took the stairs coming in, but he finally got her to try it on the way out. ... He takes his sister under his wing."
Jay said that's how it should be: "She didn't get the chances I got. I've been blessed. Things were easy for me."
Especially playing ball, Joe said:
"The first time he picked up a Wiffle bat — we were barbecuing in the backyard and he was still in diapers — he started swinging so natural. He kept hitting the ball harder and harder. I was holding a beer in my hand and he hit a line drive that dented the can."
The same prowess showed at West Brook High in Beaumont, Texas — where he was a national player of the year candidate — and last season, first in the GCL and then Billings, where Baseball America rated him the Pioneer League's top prospect.
Going into Wednesday's game in South Bend, Ind., he led the Midwest League in extra-base hits and slugging percent, was second in hits and batting average (.322), third in RBIs and fourth in home runs.
Yet, he's been even better off the field. He's paid off his parents' house, bought them a new car and bought his oldest sister Amy and her family a new home.
As for Kellan, he said: "She'll never have to worry about anything, never have to go without."
Still Martha, their mom, felt something more tangible was needed:
"I told him, 'You know, you didn't get Kellan anything particular.' So he said, 'Tell her the car is really hers.' And now she doesn't let us forget it. It's like I'm driving Miss Daisy."
Mostly, Kellan gets around by bicycle. A few days ago she took a nasty spill and cut her knee. That gave her a badge to match her brother, who badly skinned his arm when he fell on the Kane County warning track recently.
Kellan has her own cell phone, so she and her brother talk daily. "Jay and his sister tell each other good night and 'I love you,' " Joe said. "And each morning Kellan wants to know 'Is Jay playing today? Is he doing OK?' "
Thanks to her, he's doing just fine.