One of David Price’s favorite scenes during road games as a member of the Red Sox was seeing Jackie Bradley Jr. chase down balls in the gap.
For eight years, Bradley spoiled the Fenway faithful with his outfield prowess, a master class in center field. He would camp under fly balls that would require a dive from others, turn his head on the baseball and glide to a spot that his teammates could only reach if they were to sprint.
He was a savant when it came to the green beyond the infield’s hard dirt. Yet even with all his wizardry, the dimensions of Fenway Park left people such as Price wondering just what Bradley could do with more room to maneuver.
After agreeing to a two-year, $24 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday, Bradley will have a chance to stretch his legs.
American Family Field, previously known as Miller Park, plays honest and true: 344 feet to left field, 370 to left-center, 400 to center, 374 to right-center, and 345 to right. Bradley can run and go get it now with the abandonment that always had to be a calculated risk in Boston. His defensive metrics will likely level out to a standard that matches what you see on the field. For years, those metrics took a hit at Fenway, something that didn’t bother Bradley per se, but he’s always been curious how they are being measured.
“You pay attention to it because it’s something that’s used to not only rank you; in a way, it’s how you’re getting credit,” Bradley said before the 2020 season.
Bradley joins an already stacked outfield in Milwaukee that includes former Gold Glovers Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. The Brewers have Avisail Garcia, too. Cain has always played center — and has done it at an elite level since his days with Royals — but he’s turning 35 in April, and frankly he’s no Jackie Bradley Jr. at the position.
Bradley will be out to prove that, respectfully. Defense, more than anything, is where he’s assured. Even with Mookie Betts to Bradley’s left in Boston, winning four Gold Glove in right field, Betts deferred to Bradley. Bradley carries a swagger and energy that is evident.
“You have an outfielder who’s extremely talented out there,” said Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo of Bradley. “It’s funny, what I learned from him is our competitive edge. Like, we compete against each other. That was the biggest thing that helped me. It wasn’t necessarily him telling me, ‘Hey, you’ve got to set up this way or run after the ball that way.’ No, it was more of if he gets this ball or he runs a ball down in the gap, I’m kind of like, ‘All right, I’ve got the next one.’ ”
Bradley joins a lineup that hits, much like the team he left. In 2019, the Brewers ranked seventh in the majors in homers and were just outside the top 10 in slugging (.438) and OPS (.767).
Bradley can easily fit in the bottom of the Brewers’ order. He is quietly sitting on 98 career home runs and has two 20-plus-homer seasons. His power can play even more at Miller Park, which is known as a hitters’ park.
More importantly, though, he’s coming with defense, and liberty to run into the gaps.
“He’s one of the best center fielders in the game,” said the Red Sox’ J.D. Martinez.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the name of the Milwaukee Brewers’ park.