Dallas Braden Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 53
Although he was selected by the Braves in the 46th round of the 2001 draft out of Stagg High School in Stockton, CA, left-hand pitcher Dallas Braden found himself as a rare kind of ballplayer—wanted by the professional ranks, but with nowhere to go when it came to college ball.
Braden and his grandmother, who had taken him in following his mother’s passing during his senior year of high school, were looking for options. With a tough transcript and despite his draft status, a fastball that didn’t jump off the page, they showed up on the door of American River College hoping for a chance.
"I was 5' 9", 140 pounds, I was not physically mature,” said Braden. The classroom stuff reflected that I wasn't mentally mature at that point, or didn't prioritize correctly. So junior college was the obvious route."
Braden found the maturity he needed during his time at American River, both on and off the mound. Two years in junior college led to a year at Texas Tech, where he slotted into the Red Raider rotation as a junior and again got pro scouts to take notice. Oakland popped him in the 24th round, and despite low draft status and a lower bonus to match (Braden signed for $15,000), the A’s had selected a man on a mission.
"I was there to try to take care of business, to handle business as quickly as possible,” said Braden. "When I got on the mound at the pro level, I wanted to punch everyone out, I wanted to embarrass people. I didn't want a 4 or 5 pitch at bat, I wanted it to be 3 pitches."
The 24th rounder impressed enough during his initial pro ball stint to be sent out to High-A for his first full season. Not a glamorous assignment for most, just another step to the show, but for Braden it was a blessing, as the A’s ballclub at that level was the Stockton Port—Braden’s hometown team.
He wasn’t just a man on a mission that season when it came to performance on the hill. Braden loves his hometown (he’s got the area code 209 tattoo to prove it), and upon his return to Stockton as a professional took it upon himself to make an impact on his community.
"You dance with the one who brought ya,” said Braden, speaking about his beloved hometown. “There was no way that I could live at home during the season, live at home during the offseason, and not do what I believe is my part to try to help people out—to try to help my community out."
He continued, "I hate seeing people feel like they can't survive or provide for themselves (...) I don't want to see that going on in the neighborhood I'm living in, because I can do something about that, and if you can, why wouldn't you?"
Stockton’s favorite son did enough off the field during his time there to inspire the Ports to create the Dallas Braden Community Award, and did enough on the field both there and at subsequent MiLB stops to make it to the big leagues before his 24th birthday, debuting in April of 2007.
Braden’s handle business as quickly as possible, punch everyone out strategy didn’t seem to lead to as much success in the show as it had the minors. Despite Oakland carrying a young starting rotation (its anchor being a 26-year-old Joe Blanton), Braden received some experienced wisdom from righthander Dan Haren—who said, much like Crash Davis said to a young Nuke LaLoosh, that Braden needed to stop trying to strike everyone out.
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Braden adjusted, started inducing weak contact, and steadily began cementing himself in Oakland by throwing quality innings. By May of 2010 he was a quality big league arm, honing his craft start by start every fifth day—even when that fifth day fell on Mother’s Day, a day that Braden and his grandmother had largely ignored since his mother’s passing.
“My grandmother and I, up until that day, had lived a calendar of 364 days,” said Braden.
That day though, May 9th of 2010, Braden was clicking. In as low stress a manner as humanely possible he mowed through the Tampa Bay Rays lineup, tossing the 19th perfect game in MLB history—one best remembered for his embrace with his grandmother on the field following the final out.
“It was so cool, because she got to talk about Mother’s Day with a smile on her face,” said Braden. “If I have an ego about anything, I do feel like I’m magical in a sense that I was able to give my grandmother back that one day on the calendar that we were missing.”
Arm injuries would force Braden out of baseball following the 2011 season, but his colorful personality has kept him around the game since. On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm,’ former big league lefthander Dallas Braden talks finding accountability in junior college, how much personality one is allowed to have as a minor leaguer, and throwing a perfect game.