Jackie Bradley left Omaha last summer as the Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series. When the Gamecocks return to defend their national championship beginning Sunday, he simply hopes to be able to step on the field.
The junior center fielder injured a tendon in his left wrist April 23 diving for a fly ball and has not played since. He returned to practice Tuesday at Carolina Stadium to test the surgically repaired wrist for the first time.
Although he should be ready to play from a defensive standpoint, a big question remains about his ability to swing a bat without pain.
“He was running balls down in center field like he hasn’t missed a beat, but he’s not ready to swing the bat yet,” USC coach Ray Tanner said. “He went through some drills, bunting drills and things, but the next two, three, four days will gradually get him in a position to swing the bat. So there’s still a long way to go.”
Bradley was glad to be back on the field with his teammates and was pleased with how the wrist responded.
“It feels good,” he said. “I’m just taking it slow and trying to go through the motions a little bit. But other than that, (there’s) no pain.”
Tanner believes the team will get a better sense of the progress Bradley is making in the next few days.
“Today when he was doing his drills, I asked him, ‘Do you feel like you can swing?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I do. I feel like I can,’” Tanner said. “He’s being held back by the trainers and the doctors right now, so gradually he’ll get to that point.”
Tanner must make a decision by Thursday night to add Bradley to USC’s 27-player roster for the College World Series. Bradley is going to make the trip to Omaha, and it appears he will make the roster barring any setbacks.
But Tanner said it would be difficult for Bradley to step into the batter’s box against the caliber of live pitching he would face at the College World Series. However, Bradley could go into games as a late-inning defensive replacement or pinch runner.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you I wouldn’t play him, because he knows how to run from first to third and he knows how to score on a ball in the alley and he knows how to catch one,” Tanner said. “Could you see him in the game possibly? Yes. In a starting situation? Probably not.”
Bradley, who was batting .259 with six homers and 26 RBIs at the time of the injury, acknowledged it would be hard to get his timing back against top-of-the-line pitching.
“It would probably be pretty tough,” he said. “It’s hard to not play for close to two months and then jump back in there.”
Bradley said he has remained in good shape during the layoff. Now it’s a matter of testing the limits of his wrist.
“I’m just going to listen to my body and do what it tells me,” Bradley said. “If it’s bothering me, I’m going to have to go back a little bit on it and rest it a little bit.”
Bradley was selected by the Boston Red Sox with the 40th pick in the Major League Baseball draft a week ago. His adviser is well-known agent Scott Boras, but Bradley said the College World Series takes precedence over how his injury relates to contract talk.
“I haven’t really talked to him (Boras) at all,” Bradley said. “I’ve just been trying to focus on our team and getting it back to Omaha. Now that we’re here, we’ve got business to take care of.”