by Andrew Martin
Coming out of college in 2004, Bill Bray was one of the most coveted players in that year’s draft. He had an impressive career with William and Mary, compiling 132 strikeouts over 96 innings during his final two seasons alone. The left-handed reliever was regarded as one of the most polished products in the draft, leading the Montreal Expos (who relocated as the Washington Nationals the following season) to take him with the 13th overall pick. While Bray wasn’t given much of an opportunity by the team that drafted him, he has since moved on and become one of the most effective bullpen men in the game.
Bray debuted with the Nationals in 2006, but after just 19 relief appearances, he was included in a large swap of players that sent him and others to the Cincinnati Reds for Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez, and Ryan Wagner. The Reds, looking to rebuild their bullpen, were excited to acquire a pitcher like Bray.
Despite missing all of 2009 with Tommy John surgery, Bray has rewarded the Reds’ faith and become one of their most consistent relievers. For his career, he has a 13-12 record in 190 games, with a 3.58 ERA. He has also held left-handed hitters to a .225 batting average in his career, and all hitters to just a .229 mark when there are runners in scoring position.
As the retooled 2012 Reds look to make a big step forward this season, so will Bray. He continues to be a top option out of the bullpen and will be looked upon to improve upon the 79 games and 2.98 ERA he produced last year. Before he left for spring training, he took some time out to answer some questions about his time in baseball.
Bill Bray Interview
Who was your favorite team and player growing up and why?
|Bray had a 2.98 ERA in 79 appearances last season|
Picture courtesy of US Presswire
My favorite team however, was the Cincinnati Reds. My best friend took me to my first major league game at River Front Stadium, and I have been a fan ever since. It has been awesome playing for the Reds. Getting to meet players like Bench, Morgan, Larkin, Davis, Griffey... the list could go on forever… has really been an honor. I don't think there are many teams that can say they have those types of players come through the clubhouse and hang out.
What coach or manager has been most influential on you so far?
My most influential coach would have to be Jim Farr, my head coach at the College of William and Mary. He made me stop throwing a curveball and taught me my slider. Coach Farr also made me into a reliever, which propelled me into the first round and helped me climb the ladder faster.
Can you run through what your draft experience was like as a first round pick?
Unnerving. Going from a fairly unknown ballplayer to potential first rounder was incredibly stressful. I had always enjoyed feeling like an underdog, and to suddenly have a ton of radar guns directly behind home plate seemed to add a lot of pressure; way more pressure than what the game dictated. I remember feeling like I would let everyone down or that my draft status was falling if I had a poor game, which happens as a reliever. But I had a lot of family support and great agents in Bobby Witt and Scott Pucino. They really helped get me into the first round. They made sure that the right people got to see me pitch.
The day I was drafted, it was like this huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was so excited to be drafted by the Expos. We had a small group of family together at my grandparents’ house, and it was wonderful to be able to share that moment with the people I love most. Signing my contract and then getting to visit Montreal was surreal. Beautiful city. I wish I had had the chance to play there, but playing in DC was awesome.
What has been your favorite highlight from your career so far?
This may sound strange, but my favorite moment was pitching the final 1 1/3 innings (for the Reds of course) of Roy Halladay's no-hitter in the playoffs. My first playoff experience and playing in Philadelphia was insane. I don't think their fans ever sat down. Loudest place I've ever played in, not to mention the history making performance by Roy.
How much information and guidance are players given about PEDs, managing money, and other aspects of being a professional athlete?
Loaded question. As for PEDs, we are well informed. We have a list of known products that produce a positive test, as well as list of certified products that we can use. It can be difficult, though. I can't use anything from GNC or other supplement stores. Even vitamins from the grocery store could be dangerous. If it isn't on the NSF list of approved products, then I won't use it. Too much at stake.
Managing money is left up to the individual player. I interviewed several advisors before picking one that I was comfortable with. There are resources available, but I think most guys get recommendations from other players. As for handling the lifestyle and learning the ropes, we look to veteran players. Watching how they do things and how they carry themselves is usually the best way to learn. I was blessed to have great relievers like Kent Mercker, Mike Stanton, Eddie Guardado, and David Weathers that took me under their wing.
How does the experience of being a major league player compare to how you envisioned it as a kid?
It is the greatest job in the world. There is nothing I would rather do. That being said, 162 games is a long season and losing is miserable. There is no worse feeling than losing a game. But being on a team like we had in 2010 was incredible and pitching against the best players in the toughest situations is off the charts. There is no way to explain the adrenaline rush.
If you could change one thing about the game, what would it be?
Give me the taller mound back. We've shrunk the strike zone, gotten rid of a lot of foul territory, and brought the fences in. Can you tell I'm pitcher or what?
What is one bad habit you fall into during the off-season?
Laziness. After eight months of baseball, it can be easy to relax and skip a work out. It's just something you have to push through and get into a good routine. Other than that, I would say food. My wife is a great cook and loves to bake. And I love to eat.
Andrew Martin is a freelance writer with a Master's Degree in history from the University of Vermont. He's always searching for interesting stories related to baseball, baseball history, or both. His belief that every baseball player has a unique story fuels his passion for the game. Follow him on Twitter @historianandrew and check out his blog at baseballhistorian.blogspot.com.