Wednesday, June 25, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas 51s pitcher Chasen Bradford was walking to the clubhouse Monday after pregame warmups when he ran into a familiar face.
Mary Wilmore, the Triple-A franchise’s longtime security guard, is on a first-name basis with most at Cashman Field. For Bradford, a 24-year-old reliever promoted to the 51s two weeks ago from Double-A Binghamton (N.Y), their relationship isn’t new.
Bradford, a Silverado High and College of Southern Nevada product, was a 51s ball boy more than a decade ago. Then, he could only dream about taking the mound for the hometown team.
“I was a ball boy, a Little Leaguer standing on the field,” Bradford said. “She (Mary) hasn’t changed at all. This has obviously been an awesome experience.”
When Bradford started warming up in the bullpen last week for his first appearance at Cashman Field, his group of family and friends started wildly cheering. With the exception of Sunday afternoon, when first-pitch temperatures were in triple digits, they’ve been to every home game.
On the first night, his group of supporters bought all eight of Bradford’s No. 29 jersey from the team shop at Cashman Field. After the organization produced more jerseys for the following night, the family again purchased the entire inventory. A third batch of jerseys couldn’t be made because the shop ran out of the letter "D."
“Even when I’m not pitching, you hear them in the stands, which is really cool,” Bradford said. “It energizes the guys too. It can be kind of hard and tedious playing here when it’s hot all the time.”
At times, Bradford can’t help feeling like he’s back in high school. He’s staying in the same room at his parents’ house that he grew up in — where his awards from his days at Silverado are still prominently displayed.
After surrendering six runs in 3 1/3 innings during his initial two outings for the 51s, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Bradford has settled down to show the promise that earned him a promotion to Las Vegas.
Bradford hasn’t given up a run in his past six appearances, striking out six batters and walking two. On Monday, he pitched a perfect 10th inning to earn his first Triple-A victory in Las Vegas’ 10-inning, 8-5 win against Memphis.
In Binghamton, Bradford had a respectable 2.02 ERA in 26 2/3 innings as the team’s closer, striking out 25 batters and walking just six with 11 saves. Last season, he allowed just two earned runs in 25 1/3 innings in Double-A.
“This kid has what it takes to be a major league pitcher,” said 51s pitching coach Frank Viola, who was also his pitching coach for two seasons at Single-A Savannah (Ga.).
Being classified as having big-league potential is something some wouldn’t have expected for Bradford a few years ago. He was a 35th-round selection by the Mets in 2011 out of Central Florida, signing for just $1,000 because he was a college senior and this was his lone option to keep playing.
“Take it or leave it. But when you have played your whole life, it is for the chance, not the money,” said Bradford, who as a junior at Silverado went 11-0 with a 0.65 ERA in 65 innings to help the Skyhawks win the Sunrise Region and take second at state. “Every kid grows up playing baseball and dreaming of making it to the big leagues. It didn’t matter how much they gave me; I would have gone.”
Bradford admits he’s not the most talented pitcher in the Mets organization but considers himself one of its hardest workers. Viola raves about his ability to get batters out with his sinker and slider, and says Bradford's personal makeup sets him apart.
Bradford credits those traits to his older brother Mark Bradford, a former catcher at Silverado who is special warfare operator in the U.S. Navy. Although playing at Cashman Field has been one of the highlights of his career, it doesn’t top a game in Savannah when his brother threw out the first pitch.
“My brother instilled (working hard) in me,” Bradford said. “Growing up, my brother, he was always there pushing me. I’m not the most talented. I‘m not going to say I am. But I will work harder than anyone else out there.”
And that, Viola says, is what makes his pitcher special.
“He’s the real deal,” Viola said. “He’s from a wonderful family. His brother serves in the Navy. How can you not instantly respect that? He’s a hard-ass on the inside, but a sweetheart on the inside. Just a great kid.”