When I was growing up, I used to play Super Mario Brothers religiously on my Gameboy. It was my favorite video game of all-time and it kept me entertained through what otherwise would have been some of the most boring moments of my childhood (like, for instance, road trips through Montana).
As an avid Super Mario gamer, I lived in fear of finding myself with but one virtual life to live in the context of the little Italian plumber’s two-dimensional world. One solitary life to cling to meant I was one ill-timed jump, one fireball, or one evil mushroom away from the dreaded GAME OVER, a place no video game enthusiast ever wants to find himself. Faced with the prospect of impending mortality, I employed one of two very different strategies in dealing with my imminent fate.
Strategy No. 1 involved playing cautiously, considering every move before making it, and collecting every gold coin in an attempt to reach one-hundred gold coins and earn an extra life. I wasn’t playing to win. I was simply playing to not lose.
Strategy No. 2 was balls-to-the-wall craziness. I took a “whatever happens, happens” approach to the game and figured if I lost, I would simply begin anew and dominate with a clean slate with which to live by. I held down the B button from start to finish and sent that chubby Guido on a Usain Bolt-like sprint through his magical fantasyland. If I happened to plummet to my death, so be it. I was either going to keep playing like a ‘roided-out uber-freak, or move on to the next game after losing. No regrets, no apologies.
All of this leads me to Milton Bradley, the Mariners’ troubled left-fielder who hightailed his way out of the team clubhouse on Tuesday night, two innings shy of the acceptable departure time.
Bradley, as you all know, has been a bit of problem child throughout his major league career. In ten years, he has played for eight different organizations. He has burned his bridges at all of his previous stops. And while Seattle is his latest home, it may very well be his final resting place, good or bad, based on his past history.
In an ideal world, Bradley would settle down, relax, and become a model citizen in the Emerald City. He would hit .300, average 25 home runs a year, and play good enough defense to warrant a full-time gig in the outfield. Ultimately, his pristine behavior would lead to a long-term contract with the M’s that would ease him into retirement some years down the road. He would finish his career as a Mariner, and fans would remember Milton Bradley as a once-volatile human being who turned his career around when he reached Seattle.
In the world we currently live in, Bradley is staring down the barrel of yet another divorce due to irreconcilable differences. The same sort of divorce that has taken place in seven other cities. The only difference this time is that he may be down to his final opportunity. His last life, if you will. Because let’s face it. If Bradley cannot endear himself to one of the most tolerable fan bases in Major League Baseball, he will have a hard time convincing yet another franchise to take a chance on him. And that could spell doom for the talented switch-hitter.
Unlike me and my Gameboy, Bradley doesn’t have the option of tackling this one of two ways. If he wants to remain a highly-paid professional baseball player, he’s going to have to change his approach at some point in time. There’s no B button here. No balls-to-the-wall craziness. No chance to start fresh with a new set of lives. Unlike the friendly confines of an electronic video game, Bradley’s past experiences will continue to follow him around whether he makes it through another level or falls one final time.
Perhaps the good news for Bradley is that the Mariners so desperately need his bat in the lineup that he won’t face serious repercussions for bailing on his teammates in the latter stages of Tuesday’s loss to Tampa Bay. He’ll probably get a slap on the wrist, likely pay a fine, maybe receive a suspension, and move on with his life like nothing ever went off track. When he returns to the batting order, he’ll once again find himself in the heart of the ennead. When he returns to the field, he’ll reemerge between Franklin Gutierrez and the third-base foul line. We might actually be able to look back on this entire incident and laugh about it one day, who knows.
All I know is that Milton Bradley had better hope that things go that way, or the clock may be ticking on his time as a big league baseball player.
He’s currently playing for a losing ballclub in front of some of the smallest crowds in the history of the Mariners’ home ballpark.
He is not being challenged by any player, young or old, for his spot in the starting nine.
He has only occasionally been booed by a fan base that probably didn’t even notice his absence on Tuesday night.
He plays for a manager and general manager who are among the most patient men in the game.
He has been one of the team’s most consistent hitters over the past two weeks.
His presence resulted in the disappearance of El Burro Gordo, aka The Albatross, aka The Guy Who Very Nearly Outweighed His Enormous ERA, aka Carlos Silva.
These are all things working in Bradley’s favor right now.
He has been given a golden opportunity to prove himself to the Seattle faithful. Now it’s up to Bradley to take advantage of that opportunity. Before it’s too late.