Ex-Tiger QB pitches in with Missouri softball

By Alan Scher Zagier

Associated Press

Published: Friday, May 20 2011 2:35 p.m. MDT

ADDS THIRD SENTENCE - In this photo taken May 19, 2011, Missouri assistant softball coach Phil Bradley watches his players warmup before practice on the softball field in Columbia, Mo. The Tigers host DePaul, Indiana and Illinois State this weekend at a double-elimination NCAA Regional. Bradley is serving as a volunteer assistant coach.

L.G. Patterson, Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. — As a former star quarterback and All-American baseball player, Phil Bradley's athletic legacy is literally carved in stone at Missouri.

So are his pro sports bona fides, thanks to a seven-year major league baseball career with the Seattle Mariners and three other teams.

Bradley's latest accomplishment is helping Missouri softball become one of the nation's top teams, serving as a volunteer assistant coach.

"There's not many people who have someone who played in the major leagues helping their softball program," said Missouri first baseman Ashley Fleming. "There's nobody on the team who questions his ability and his knowledge of the game."

Missouri (46-7, 15-3) won the Big 12 Conference regular-season title and is the overall No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Tigers host DePaul, Indiana and Illinois State this weekend at a double-elimination NCAA Regional. Their first game is against Illinois State Friday night.

The 52-year-old Bradley has called Columbia home for most of the 30 years since he graduated as a three-time Big Eight Conference offensive player of the year. The speedy outfielder had a .457 batting average his senior year.

In the pros, Bradley made the 1985 All-Star team, hitting .300 with a career-high 26 home runs in Seattle. He later played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox.

He's spent the past decade as a special assistant to the Major League Baseball Players Association's executive director, traveling extensively.

Bradley and Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine worked together at Westminster (Mo.) College, a Division III school 30 miles down the road in Fulton where Bradley was head coach and Earleywine his lone assistant from 1994 through 1997.

Bradley had only recently retired from pro baseball, and his young assistant took in every word.

"I had a little black book I carried with me," Earleywine said. "I wrote down quotes, philosophies, thoughts — anything I could get from him. I was like a sponge.

"If I was going to pursue coaching as a career, who else better to learn from than Phil Bradley?"

Earleywine succeeded Bradley as head coach at Westminster, moving into coaching softball several years later at Georgia Tech.

He came to Missouri in 2006, and quickly noticed a familiar face looming on the practice green at A.L. Gustin Jr. golf course beyond the right field wall at University Field.

"One day I was just hitting golf balls across the street," Bradley said. "He called me over to look at a girl hitting, and that's how we got started."

As a volunteer coach, Bradley sees his primary role as a support system, a soothing voice to counter the more fiery Earleywine. He rarely travels with the team but tries to make each home game.

Should Missouri earn a bid to its third consecutive College World Series, Bradley will pack his bags for Oklahoma City.

"Hopefully the only trip I have to make this year is to the World Series," he said.

Bradley compared his role to that of a grandfather or a visiting relative. Having raised two children who played major college sports, he is less taskmaster than trusted adviser.

"When you're doing good, you have all kinds of friends," he said. "When things are not going well, that's when you need a friend. And that's who I try to be."

Not that Bradley can't offer specific instruction, particularly with struggling batters. Sophomore third baseman Nicole Hudson said he helped correct a glitch in her swing in the offseason. She hit a team-high 11 home runs and batted .342 this season.

"We feel really lucky to have him," she said. "We know he doesn't have to be out here."

For his part, Bradley is enjoying the ride. His pupil Earleywine now the teacher, Bradley acknowledges he has more perspective than in his playing days or at Westminster.

"I'm here to be whatever he needs me to be," Bradley said. "If he's happy, I'm happy. I love being here."

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