Mike Bradford played baseball for Mississippi State from 1982-83, under the legendary Ron Polk. Bradford arrived the year after MSU made its third College World Series appearance, and he played alongside the likes of Jeff Brantley, Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro.
Bradford eventually landed in Florida, where he now does property management work, and he hasn't made it back to Starkville a lot in the 28 years he's been gone. But his younger son, C.T Bradford, grew up knowing all about MSU baseball and its strong tradition. He and his father would talk about those ex-teammates who went on to Major League stardom, and of course Polk always kept in touch.
"He understands that it was a very proud tradition and still is, and that these people expect Bulldog baseball to win," Mike said.
C.T. was the subject of a feature in today's Journal. He's a freshman who has excelled in the roles of center fielder and leadoff hitter, displaying an on-field maturity beyond his years (seems pretty mature off the field, too). His dad won't take much credit for C.T.'s success, saying that older son Michael deserves more of that.
"I'm not near as good as C.T.," said Mike when asked to compare playiing ability. Mike said he usually batted in the No. 2 hole against left-handed pitchers and in the No. 8 hole versus right-handers. Mike never made any all-SEC teams; C.T. was named all-freshman this season.
Mike thinks his son got a really good feel for the atmosphere surrounding MSU baseball during a junior day visit a couple of years ago. Mike received guidance from Polk during the recruiting process.
Polk, of course, left MSU after the 2008 season. Enter John Cohen, the fiery, hard-nosed ex-Bulldog who played for Polk from 1988-90. Mike Bradford had no qualms about the regime change, and neither did C.T.
"I don't know John Cohen that well, but I love John Cohen," Mike said.
C.T. welcomed the challenge of playing for Cohen, and of helping MSU get back on top. The three seasons previous to this one certainly would not instill confidence in most people that success was imminent, but C.T. saw an opportunity.
"He loved the facilities," Mike said. "He actually loved John Cohen. He liked his style, he likes that hard-nosed style, kind of in-your-face, so to speak. … He was not deterred by John Cohen and his tough attitude or his tough way of doing things. That didn't bother him a bit. He's been around me and Michael so long, we do that anyway. We work really hard at what we do."
When MSU travels to Gainesville this weekend for a super regional against Florida, it'll actually be a longer drive from the Bradfords' home in Pace, Fla., to there (five hours) than it is to Starkville (four hours, 20 minutes). So C.T. doesn't really feel like he's going back home.
In fact, MSU is pretty much home. Last week, as State was preparing for the Atlanta Regional, Polk – who sends cards and letters to his former players with amazing consistency – called Mike and asked to speak with C.T. The old coach wished the freshman luck, and they spoke for quite a few minutes.
"He called just to check in and make sure everything was going good," C.T. said. "We just talked a little bit, he just told me to have a great time and enjoy it."