By Mychael Urban / MLB.comChad Bradford did in one day what the Rays achieved in a calendar year, going from worst to first while continuing what he's called a "wild ride" from humble baseball beginnings in Jackson, Miss.
Bradford, a right-handed reliever, has bounced around the big leagues since making his debut with the White Sox in 2000. He spent four seasons as a setup man for the A's, followed by stints with the Red Sox, Mets and Orioles.
But while enjoying an early-August Thursday off with family in Jackson, Bradford received word that the O's, who were mired in last place in the American League East, had completed a trade that made him a member of the Rays.
He flew from Jackson back to Baltimore to gather his things the next day, and by Saturday, he was in Seattle to join the Rays on a West Coast swing.
Bradford made 21 regular-season appearances with the Rays in 2008, posting a 1.42 ERA to help them complete a historic turnaround from 66 wins in 2007 to 97 wins -- and lock down the American League East title.
"My whole career's been kind of crazy," Bradford told MLB.com. "Never in a million years would I have believed you if you told me all this would happen to me back when I was in high school."
Bradford attended Byram High School in Hinds County, Miss., and unlike most future Major Leaguers, he didn't exactly wow everyone with his athletic prowess.
"I wasn't very good at first," he admitted. "That's the honest truth."
And when a high school coach suggested that Bradford himself try throwing in a similar manner, things started to click.
"It was like it was meant to be," Bradford said. "All of a sudden I could get people out."
Bradford didn't quite throw underhanded at first; it was more of a sidearm delivery. Regardless, the new approach created tremendous movement on his pitches, and Bradford went on to earn second-team junior college All-America honors at Hinds Community College in 1994.
The White Sox selected him in the late rounds of that year's Draft, but Bradford decided to play college ball for a couple of more years, moving on to the University of Southern Mississippi.
"I wasn't quite ready to leave Mississippi," he said. "I was a country boy, and I liked being a country boy."
After the White Sox re-drafted him in 1996, however, Bradford left the comforts of the South and signed his first pro contract. His sidearm delivery has since morphed into a true submarine style, an unintentional homage to his father, and helped him develop into a reliable bullpen arm for a World Series title-contending club.
Along the way, Bradford has learned to deal with big-city life.
"I still don't like to ride the subway when I'm in New York; I'm more of a dirt-roads type of guy," he said with a laugh. "But for everything baseball's given to me and my family, it's pretty easy to put up with a few things that might be out of your comfort zone."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.