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Eggers: Bradley coaches last inning at Pacific

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Pacific University coach Greg Bradley, in his final game, hands the ball to senior T.C. Fairfield to close out Puget Sound on Sunday.FOREST GROVE — It’s 10:45 a.m. Sunday, 75 minutes until game time at Chuck Bafaro Stadium, and it’s beginning to rain. The Pacific University coaches and players spring into action, laying the tarp down over the pitcher’s mound and base paths.

The game cannot be canceled. It’s Senior Day for the Boxers. And it’s the final game of the long coaching career of Greg Bradley.

“We’re going to get it in,” says Bradley, scurrying around in a busybody role, with a little optimism mixed in with realism.

It’s been a disappointing season for Pacific, just two years removed from a Northwest Conference co-championship. The Boxers, who have placed among the league’s top four in each of the previous three seasons, are to finish with a 13-25 record, leaving Bradley with a 328-347 career mark.

That’s not the point today. It’s the grand finale for Bradley after 21 years at Pacific, the last 19 as head baseball coach. His family is on hand, along with nearly three dozen former players, paying respects to their old coach. Bradley’s current players understand it’s not just the final game of a losing campaign.

“Being able to be a part of his last game is pretty special,” junior pitcher Tyler Kotchik says. “He’s been around the program a long time. When somebody like that leaves the game, it’s a pretty big moment. Hopefully, we can send him out the right way.”

Bradley, 61, had hoped to coach at least one more season in order to be there with his son, junior shortstop Donnie Bradley. Health problems prevent that. Six years into the progression of Parkinson’s disease, Bradley can no longer handle the rigors of a job that requires what seems like 24 hours a day to maintain.

“It’s going to be an emotional day,” Greg Bradley says.

Donnie Bradley is feeling it, too. He was a bat boy for the Boxers from the time he was knee-high to a grasshopper.

“I grew up coming to these games,” says Pacific’s No. 3 hitter. “It’s not just losing a coach. This has been a part of our family life for so long. It’s going to be a big change next year, for sure.”

Pacific athletic director Ken Schumann and Greg Bradley go back more than 30 years to their time together at Sunset High, where they assisted Ken Harris in the basketball program and Bradley coached the baseball team. After eight years coaching at Sunset, Bradley moved on to Pacific, assisting Bafaro before taking over the program in 1996, all the while continuing to teach at Sunset until retiring in 2011.

Since then, Bradley has been working full-time at Pacific as athletic facilities coordinator.

“I’ll do that for one more year, through Donnie’s senior year, and probably that’s it,” Bradley says. “I don’t know what retirement is, but I understand it’s pretty good.”

Bradley’s Pacific teams enjoyed six 20-win seasons, capped by a record-setting 25 victories in 2002. His 2012 team tied for the NWC championship, the school’s first since 1979. Bradley helped design the Boxers’ stadium that opened in 2008.

The most meaningful thing about coaching to Bradley, though, has been the

relationships.

“I love to have kids come back and say hi, to invite me to their wedding, to see people graduate and be successful,” he says. “Playing at the D-III level is not D-I. It’s not quite the intensity or the same amount of time, but it’s a good level of baseball, and you get a good education at Pacific.”

Among the highlights has been the opportunity to coach Donnie and stepson Kyle Gallagher, a pitcher/first baseman who played for the Boxers from 1997-99.

“Things were a little rocky the first season, because I think he expected more of me,” says Gallagher, 37, who flew in from his home in Delray Beach, Fla., for Sunday’s finale. “We butted heads at first, but in the end, it was fantastic. Overall, it was a great experience for me.”

Has Bradley been tougher on Donnie, too?

“I like to think so; he likes to not think so,” says Donnie with a grin. “But I’d rather have him be tougher and challenge me. I never got to play for Dad growing up, so I’m glad I came here. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the experience.”

Bradley’s final practice last Friday was Pacific’s 65th of the year and, by his reckoning, his 14,233rd at the school.

“When I told the kids, they looked at me like I was making it up,” he says. “It’s been a long run.”

A shocking diagnosis

Bradley was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008 after a visit to the doctor.

“I had a cut on my hand that wasn’t healing very well, and I had a little tremor, but I never thought anything about it,” he says. “The doctor studied the symptoms and left the office, came back in about eight minutes and said, ‘I’m not sure, but I think you have Parkinson’s.’ I was floored.”

When Bradley told his family, “It was a big shock,” Donnie says. “It was a big factor in deciding to come to school at Pacific. I wanted to stay close and keep the family together.”

Continuing to coach has been a positive for his father, Donnie says.

“It’s good for him to be out here and to stay active,” he says. “It’s helped keep him going. He’s been losing the ability to do some stuff, but coaching has been a great coping mechanism.”

For the first couple of years, Bradley says, “there was no problem doing everything I wanted to do. The last year or so, with the progression of the disease, there have been more symptoms — shakes, stiffness in the neck, some speech problems.”

Bradley has begun to take medication to help slow the effects of the disease.

“It helps,” he says, “but it’s the good-day/bad-day syndrome.”

“We’ve talked about it over the last couple of years,” says Schumann, a close friend. “The idea was for him to go as long as he felt comfortable and that it wouldn’t affect his health. It got to the point where we both understood it was starting to do that. We came to the conclusion after last season that the best thing for his health was to go one more year.”

Those around Bradley admire the way he has coped with the disease.

“He’s done a good job handling it,” says Brooke Bradley, his wife of 25 years. “He has tried to be a good example for the kids. Some things are a little harder for him, but he just works extra hard, stays up late and gets up early.”

“My mom has been a big help,” Donnie says. “She’s as supportive as you can get.”

“It’s been very difficult, but I’m very proud of the way he continues to be a part of the program, to lead the program on top of his daily responsibilities,” Gallagher says. “It hasn’t been easy, but he’s been classy. I’m very happy to be able to come back and celebrate this with him.”

The players have noticed the “classy” part, too.

“Everyone knows his situation,” Kotchik says. “He has been able to make us all stronger. He has given us a lot of great life lessons. We’ve all learned a lot from his struggles this year.

“Coach (Bradley) is a great leader. He is always giving us the best advice — make sure we believe in ourselves, because he has always believed in us. We know we can overcome whatever adversity is in front of us, because he has instilled those beliefs in us.”

Schumann hates to see the end of the Bradley era.

“Greg has meant a tremendous amount to our school,” says Schumann, Pacific’s athletic director since 2004 and its basketball coach for 13 years prior to that. “He has brought so much integrity, and he is one of the best baseball coaches around. He has built this program to a consistent contender, and he has done it with class.

“He has been a mentor to the kids. The number of alumni who came here today is a testament to the job he’s done. We’re really going to miss him. There aren’t too many coaches around like Greg Bradley. He does things the right way. He has raised the level of what we’re doing with Pacific baseball.”

Helping out in smaller role

Bradley will miss coaching — most of it.

“I will not miss pulling water off the tarp, as I had to do today,” he says, smiling. “I’ll miss the interaction with my coaches and with my players. When a young man comes to you and says he’s having some troubles in life, and you can help direct him to be successful, you can’t get that in other areas of life.

“And I’ll miss the planning. If I were coaching next year, I’d start planning tomorrow.”

Bradley says after a successor is named, he’ll ask if he can help out in some fashion next year to be with Donnie for his senior season. He’ll do whatever he can with a smile on his face.

“This is a disease that keeps you guessing what’s going to be next, but you have to have a positive outlook,” Bradley says. “Being involved in coaching has been a real plus for me, but at this stage, it was going to get more difficult for me to do it. It’s time to back off of that, but I’m sure not going to back off the other things in life.”

As family members, coaches, players and former players line the baselines for a pregame ceremony to honor Bradley, the rain stops, some clouds part and sunshine peaks through — a little divine intervention, perhaps.

Schumann speaks, gives Bradley some mementoes from the school, and those in the stands rise to give the departing coach a standing ovation as he takes the microphone.

“I’m not much of a speaker,” he says, then delivers a short but poignant talk about how much his time at Pacific has meant to him.

Then he shakes his head.

“It’s sunny,” he says. “Let’s play baseball.”

Two and a half hours later, the Boxers have delivered their coach a parting gift — rallying from a 4-0 first-inning deficit for an 8-6 victory over Puget Sound. Donnie Bradley is the star, going 3 for 4 with three RBIs.

“It was a great ending,” Bradley says as he celebrates with family and former players at a sports bar afterward.

Sometimes, things work out the way they’re supposed to.

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