THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Give the kid credit; she has a flair for the dramatic.
A go-ahead home run in the top of the eighth, the neon yellow ball clearing the distant center-field fence with ease. An unassisted double play in the bottom of the inning, a clean scoop of a humpback liner and a swift step on second base thwarting a home team comeback. It’s a combination that brings this Southern California high school softball game to a close, visiting Oaks Christian of Westlake Village heading happily home with an extra-inning win, and leaves this observer with one undeniable conclusion.
The stud at shortstop has the clutch gene.
And then you think, “Oh, she must get it from her Uncle Tommy, only the greatest game-winning quarterback of our time.’’
Or on second thought, “She must get it from her mother, Maureen, the one-time All-America college softball player and all-time dominant California prep pitcher.”
But soon you understand the truth. These are the Bradys, which means she gets it from herself.
“I think Maya is already the most athletic person of the family,” the aforementioned Uncle Tommy concedes in comments to the Globe. “She’s just a great athlete, so competitive. And she’s been on such winning teams and she’s such a great teammate. It’s so impressive.”
In this family, you don’t often admit to athletic inferiority. You are not cocky and you do not brag, at least to outsiders. But within the Brady walls? If you’re good, you own it. And Maya Brady is good. Really good. Good enough to be the next great athlete in the Brady bunch, where the headliner might be the quarterback New Englanders know better as Tom, but whose early sports prowess was always trumped by the women in his house.
Maya, 17, the oldest daughter of Tom’s oldest sister, Maureen, and the No. 2 recruit in the nation, is setting the bar for the next generation, heading to 12-time national champion UCLA in the fall, a coup for one of the top college programs in the country.
“I’ve been doing this for 45 years, this is my 19th year at the school, and I’ve always had some really great players, blue collars,” Oaks Christian coach Peter Ackermann says. “And then when Maya enrolled at the school, I finally got my Derek Jeter, a person who can do it all and puts the team first. And I think that summarizes Maya. With all of the things that people try to associate her with, it’s surprising how well-grounded she is, and that’s on account of her mother and her family. They did an outstanding job.”
A regular family
Regardless of famous lineage, Maya, Maureen, and younger sister Hannah, 11, are in the midst of a tradition familiar to families in every corner of America, a slice of life valuable and lasting for so much more than a game-winning score or a league championship trophy. Carpools and postgame snacks, road trips and dirty uniforms, these are the days that make lifelong memories. And these are the days that have defined the extended Brady family for generations, where a love of sports, a love of competition, and yes, a love of winning, have drawn the backdrop to their lives. Maya’s simply taking her turn in destiny’s lineup.
“I feel pressure because I always want our family to be successful, more successful, you know, than we already are,” she says in the contented glow of her team’s win over Thousand Oaks. “For me to set the bar for the next generation is an honor, but at the same time, a kind of pressure.”
Her grin is fleeting, but sly nonetheless.
“I don’t want anybody to pass me up,” she says.
Good luck trying. There will be candidates, of course. Among Tom Sr. and Galynn Brady’s children — Maureen, Julie (a soccer star), Nancy (also a softball stud), and Tom — there are nine grandchildren, and when you consider that Julie is married to former Red Sox star Kevin Youkilis, you know there are more than enough genes to ensure those candidates will be worthy. But a word of warning: The Maya Bradys of the world don’t come around too often.
“The sky’s the limit for Maya, she’s continued to develop and grow,” says UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. “I look forward to her being challenged at the next level. She’s such a sound athlete, she has speed, strength and a high IQ. She’s joining a very successful program, where you learn even more about how to compete. The best is yet to come.”
Born with talent and blessed with opportunity, fueled on determination and forged by the indomitable spirit of a hard-working single mom, Maya found her love for softball at a young age, and she hasn’t stopped feeding it.
She pretty quickly moved off the mound where her mother once starred — Maureen was an astounding 111-10 for Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, Calif., with 29 no-hitters and 14 perfect games before becoming an All-American at Fresno State, leading the nation with 26 wins as a junior — preferring to run things from the infield. She has spent countless hours at extra hitting or fielding lessons, set countless alarm clocks for predawn rides to tournaments, and driven countless miles across the western United States sharing on-the-go dinners with her mother (“We don’t go by the TB12 diet,” Maureen laughs), Hannah or, very often, her grandparents.
“I just am really proud of her hard work. I’m proud of her commitment,” Maureen says, a splash of California sun backing the grass where we sit just behind the right-field wall. “When you get to the level she’s at, it’s such a commitment. We’ve been up so many mornings at 4:30, 5 o’clock.
“It’s really hard on the families. You are in the car, on the road, every weekend, 4 o’clock, 4:30 in the morning, totally different than when I played. Now these kids, they have to train. We didn’t train the way kids do now, hitting lessons, pitching lessons, working out every single day on top of regular practice out here. And then their schoolwork is much harder now, so it’s a much bigger commitment.’’
One this mother was so willing to make, moving the family from the northern half of the state just so Maya could play for the famed OC Batbusters, framing her career as a nurse through home-care nursing, visiting patients during the day and toting her trusty laptop everywhere so she can chart whenever and wherever possible. Putting family first is as much the Brady way as winning is, and Maureen will do anything to pass on a passion for sports, not for the results, but for the experience.
“Whereas my brother makes a million dollars every football game, girls aren’t going to do that,” Maureen says, “so the life lessons that you learn from being part of a team is what you take on for the rest of your life.”
Their approach seems to prove how much the former begets the latter. Family support fuels individual success.
“I think that competitively with my family, that has really brought out more of a competitive spirit in me, into my sports,” Maya says. “We’ve always competed, from touching the elevator button, whoever can get to the room first, ever since I was young, with my mom. Once I started playing sports, it was like, ‘Oh, we can win?’ It drew that out in me.’’
Support is everywhere
One look at Tom’s Instagram account provides evidence, a clip of a family dodgeball game (girls against the boys) showing off Maya’s rocket arm. It’s from one of the annual vacations the entire family gathers for in summer, where rest and relaxation do not appear to be too high on the agenda. Maureen still cringes at the memory of an ill-fated game of archery tag that left her with a head shot and quite a headache, but she’s not looking for a way out. Sitting out means missing a chance for one-upmanship, like the way Maya was intent on taking out her uncle in that dodgeball game.
“Oh yeah, I was trying to get out of the way,” Tom admits. “She was coming after me, which is exactly what I wanted. It’s always fun to race her and be competitive with her, she’s overtaken me pretty quickly on all the athletic skills.”
Soon she’ll be bringing them to the Bruins, a recruiting decision that flipped two family allegiances. Maureen’s Fresno State team twice lost in the national championship to UCLA, teams that included the current coach Inouye-Perez, and Tom is famously devoted to his alma mater Michigan. No matter.
“They’ve got a great tradition at UCLA,” he says. “I know Michigan does, too, but when UCLA plays Michigan of course I’m rooting for UCLA and Maya.”
Theirs is a special bond. Says Maya: “I have a single mom, so I don’t really have that father figure in my life, but as I’ve grown older I’ve really gotten a lot closer with my Uncle Tommy. He’s taught me a lot about myself and what I should expect from others to treat me. He’s just taught me a lot about life. In sports, I mean, he’s the pinnacle of working hard and never giving up, so I think he just tells me to work hard and never give up. But I don’t really need him to tell me that. I can see it through him. All the stories that have been passed down, I’ve learned a lot from him just being in my family.”
Answers Tom: “Well Maya, I feel the same way about her. She’s been a blessing in all of our lives. I’m just proud of everything she’s accomplished and worked toward. What Hannah, her sister, has provided her in support and what her mom Maureen has, too, you know, there’s a lot of love in that environment and that home and it’s just great to see everyone succeed so much.”
But remember, these are the Bradys. They can be salty, too.
Maya’s game has wrapped up and Maureen is waiting to reconnect, delighted with her daughter’s performance, somewhat disappointed the victory “was harder than it should have been” after Oaks Christian surrendered a late 2-0 lead. I suddenly wondered aloud if there’d been any mano-a-mano softball clashes between mother and daughter.
“Do I think I could strike Maya out?” Maureen says. “No. Absolutely not.”
She pauses. “I’ll tell her I can though.”
It’s the Brady way.