What do you do when all your dreams come true?
If you’re from Aledo like Cody Bradford is, you go right back to work.
After the Texas Rangers won the first World Series in franchise history on Wednesday, Nov. 1, the team hopped on a plane to fly home from Phoenix. Friday morning, they took part in the parade in Arlington to celebrate winning their first championship with hundreds of thousands of faithful Rangers fans.
But by the time the sun sat on Friday evening, Bradford and his wife Madi were back in the air.
“The parade was Friday morning,” Bradford stated. “Friday night my wife and I actually flew to Charlotte, North Carolina. I went to a facility out there. It’s a company called Tread Athletics. They specialize in pitcher biomechanics and pitch design. I went and threw a bullpen Saturday morning.
“So, Friday morning, parade. Friday night, flew to Charlotte. Saturday morning, I woke up and went to this facility to throw a bullpen in the motion capture bullpen where they can track all the movements of my body, slow-mo it, put a stick figure over me to force plate projections, and workout so I can get the best off-season program based on how my body works that I could possibly get.”
Preparation for next season never stops for Big League ballplayers, not even in those rare instances where a young man from a small north Texas town realizes every dream he had growing up in the span of one season.
“It’s been incredible,” said the 25-year-old Aledo native. “Honestly, it’s been overwhelming. I’ll say that. It’s been overwhelming, but incredible at the same time.
“I can’t help but see God’s hand at work. He’s given me the opportunity to play at this level. God’s done everything. He’s helped me through injury in my career and poured out blessing after blessing.
“Looking up in the stands and seeing some of the young faces up there, I was the same way. When me and my dad would go to games, it was so cool to get to see Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Mark Teixeira, or Derek Holland pitching. It was nuts. And now that I’m here, it feels like a dream every day. Sometimes I go to the field and it doesn’t feel like this is my job, it doesn’t feel real. It feels like I’m just dreaming and I’m going to wake up one day. It’s incredible!”
Bradford’s diamond dreams started at the age of nine. Playing little league right here in Aledo on a team where his dad doubled as his head coach, Bradford took to the bump for the first time. That experience put a dream – an extraordinary dream – in his heart that he’s spent his life in pursuit of.
But big dreams are never realized overnight. They are a journey of millions of small steps consistently taken in the same direction. For Bradford, his next step was being a Bearcat playing on the Aledo High School baseball team. The experience he gained coupled with the coaching and expectations that come along with being part of this community helped prepare him to take that eventual next step.
“All the coaches have the expectation for you to go out there and win,” Bradford stated. “At the same time, they know how to develop the kids and how to get the best out of them. I was lucky to have some really good coaches along the way that were really encouraging and helped me out. The second thing I would credit my work ethic to would be my dad. He taught me from a young age to work hard at whatever it is. If it’s academics, if it’s athletics, if it’s being a future husband - whatever it may be, just work really hard at it.”
Following the end of his high school career, Bradford went on to Baylor University to pitch for the Bears as a Division I athlete.
“Every time you move up a level or division, you kind of have a moment where you wonder, am I good enough to be here? Coming from high school to college, I was successful in high school, but I don’t know how much that’s going to play at the college level. Your first outing or two, it’s kind of just trying to find your confidence.”
Bradford did indeed find his confidence. In 2018, he pitched for the Chatham Anglers in the renowned Cape Cod League, was named to the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, and was the Big 12 Conference Pitcher of the Year.
Then adversity struck.
In back-to-back seasons Bradford was sidelined. In March of 2019 while at Baylor he underwent season-ending surgery. He ended up being drafted by his beloved Texas Rangers that year despite the surgery. But, before he could play in his first game as a professional, the Minor League Baseball season was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020.
After spending just over two seasons in the Rangers minor league system, he was called into the manager’s office while on the road with the Round Rock Express. He was advised he would not make his planned start on Sunday, May 14. When he asked why not, his manager told him it was because the Rangers wanted him to start on Monday in Arlington against the visiting Atlanta Braves.
During his Major League debut, Bradford threw five complete innings, surrendering six runs and striking out three batters in the spot start before returning to Triple-A. A couple weeks later, the Rangers came calling again, and again a few weeks after that.
“Any time I got called back up, against Baltimore a couple weeks later and then against L.A. a month or two later, every opportunity I got, it felt like the first time again,” Bradford recalled. “It was surreal. It was really fun trying to get my nerves down, my emotions down, and just focus on the game. It was like multiple debuts, essentially. Every time I got that phone call again, it was exciting.”
By the time the regular season came to a close, Bradford had a 9-3 record in Triple-A with a 3.63 ERA, which made him the Pacific Coast League’s Pitcher of the Year in spite of only being in the minor leagues for part of the season.
At the Major League level, he threw 56 innings, made eight starts, had a 4-3 win-loss record, with a combined ERA of 5.30 for the Rangers as the team prepared for their playoff run.
“The more you learn, it’s not about how hard you throw, or how nasty your pitches are. It’s really about how much conviction can you have behind every pitch that you throw? The more conviction you have, the better you’re going to execute each pitch and hit your spots.”
As October wound to a close, Bradford went from just hoping to be on the roster for the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros to providing the Rangers with two shutout innings of work coming out of the bullpen in relief during the World Series. Texas went on to close out the series, four games to one over the Arizona Diamondbacks to earn the first World Series championship in the franchise’s 62-year history.
“I don’t know if I have been able to process it yet,” Bradford said transparently. “My feet haven’t touched the ground. I’ve not been able to wrap my whole head around it. I appreciate the World Series, but I think I would understand just how rare it was had this not been my first season in pro ball. I feel like I had a cup of coffee in the big leagues this year and got lucky enough to be on the playoff roster and then win the World Series.
“I don’t know if I understand how rare making it that deep in the playoffs really is yet. Having guys like Ian Kennedy on the team, who’s been in the big leagues for parts of 17 years – he would come in every day during the playoffs and say, ‘Cody, this doesn’t happen. This never happens. We’re doing it, Cody. We’re doing it this year. This doesn’t happen.’
“I would be like, what are you talking about? He would tell me, ‘I’ve been in the playoffs twice my entire 17 years in the big leagues. I’ve never even come close to making it to the World Series. This is awesome!’ Getting to see his reaction made me appreciate this moment and be grateful for this opportunity.”
As the Rangers returned home to the Texas-sized fanfare, nearly a million people lined the streets of Arlington on Friday, Nov. 3, for the World Series parade. For Bradford, it was an opportunity to relish in a dream with the people who mean the most to him.
“The parade itself was pretty cool. They had Toyota trucks for each one of us and our families to ride in. My parents got to come and be part of it. My sister was there, along with my wife. It was really cool getting to have that experience and share it with them too.”
With the 2023 season being everything he could have hoped and more, the only thing left to do is do it all over again - or, at least give it everything he’s got.
Bradford enters his first major league offseason with a lot of work ahead of him. He’s already got goals heading into next season. Attaining those goals starts now.
“As far as off-season goals go, it would be breaking ball development to try to get a swing-and-miss breaking ball pitch.”
Bradford is uncertain what future plans the organization have in store for him looking ahead to the 2024 season. Once the parade ended on Friday morning, everyone went their own way, including Bradford, who jumped on a plane for Charlotte. While no official discussions have taken place, the southpaw knows exactly what he’d like to happen.
“I would hope there’s an opportunity to break with the big league team next year. I don’t know if that would be in a starter’s role or not, just looking at the guys we have coming back,” he said. “Even if it’s in a long relief role coming out of the bullpen like my role was during the playoffs and the last month of the season, I would love that opportunity with the hopes of one day working my way back to being a starter.”
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