- - Sunday, November 11, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Bill Bray was at an amateur baseball tournament in Florida last month when he got the news — he had passed the bar exam.

Bill Bray, former major league relief pitcher for the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds, was now Bill Bray, lawyer.

“I felt like I was walking on air,” he said.

In a way, it was like he was back in the big leagues — only this time, in a role off the field. And not just an agent, he was a lawyer too. A rare commodity: an agent with both major league baseball playing experience and the gravitas of a law degree.

“The combination of being an attorney, an agent and having played the game is rare, and I think that will separate me when it comes to representing the best interests of players,” Bray said.

Soon, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo may find himself sitting across the table from the player he signed to a minor-league contract in December 2012, Bray’s second stint with the club. Bray currently advises two Nationals minor leaguers, Nick Raquet and James Bourque.

Raquet was a third-round draft choice from 2017 from William & Mary — Bray’s alma mater — and is an up-and-coming starting pitcher in the organization, going 9-9 with a 3.74 ERA in 24 starts with Potomac and Hagerstown last season. Bourque is a promising reliever, a 14th-round draft choice from 2014 who, with Potomac and Harrisburg last season, posted a 1.70 ERA in 41 appearances.

“I recruit and advise players at all levels,” Bray said. “My goal is to help them achieve their dreams and making it to the major leagues and being successful major leaguers.”

Bray, 35, who grew up in Virginia Beach, achieved his dream of making it to the MLB in 2006 with Washington. He was a member of the last draft class of the Montreal Expos in 2004 as the 13th pick out of William & Mary. A reliever, Bray was elated to be picked by the Expos, particularly since the expectation was that the team would be relocating close by where he grew up.

“I was thrilled,” he said. “When I was drafted, as far as relocation, they were still looking at Norfolk and D.C., and the thought of playing close to home was intriguing … Then going to D.C. and being two hours from home and having friends and family close by meant a chance to share my experiences with my family.”

Bray made his debut with the Nationals on June 3, 2006, in Milwaukee.

The Brewers had a 3-2 lead with two outs and Corey Koskie on first base. Bray came in to face Prince Fielder and threw one pitch — a pitch where Koskie was thrown out trying to steal second. The Nationals scored two runs in the top of the ninth for a 4-3 lead, and Chad Cordero came in for the save. But Bray, having thrown just one pitch, would get the win.

He became one of manager Frank Robinson’s go-to guys in the pen, with 19 appearances over a six-week period. He loved playing for Robinson.

“Frank being such an amazing player in his time, it made me a little nervous to talk to him because of his stature in the game and everything he had done,” Bray said. “He was a great manager for me and took me right under his wing. I enjoyed playing for him.”

Bray didn’t play for Robinson long. He, along with fellow reliever Gary Majewski, infielders Royce Clayton and Brendan Harris and pitching prospect Daryl Thompson, was traded on July 13 to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder Austin Kearns, infielder Felipe Lopez and pitcher Ryan Wagner by general manager and franchise gravedigger Jim Bowden.

“It was a Jim Bowden special,” he said. “He went out and got some of his guys from Cincinnati and shipped me out.”

Bray had a solid career with the Reds, appearing in 239 games in relief — in between Tommy John surgery in 2009 — going 12-11 with a 3.72 ERA. And in 2008, he found himself playing for a future Washington Nationals manager in Dusty Baker, who led Cincinnati to the National League Central Division title in 2010 and 2012. Bray appeared in two games in the 2010 National League Division Series against the Phillies and didn’t give up a run.

“I loved playing for Dusty, but there were also some things I didn’t like about playing for Dusty,” Bray said. “He liked me as a left-handed specialist and I wanted to be a late-inning reliever. But what I really loved about Dusty is he is absolutely a player’s manager, and he is consistent. I knew what Dusty wanted me to do and when he was going to put me in the game. It was easy to play for him. I respect everything he has done in the game, and definitely think he should still be managing.”

Bray struggled with injuries in Cincinnati in 2012, and was released. He signed a minor league contract with Washington in December, and was looking forward to pitching for the Nationals again. But it wasn’t meant to be.

“It was going well until May of that year when I was pitching in Harrisburg and tore my labrum in my shoulder,” he said. “Over the course of my career, unfortunately, I had been injured quite a bit. After several months of rehabbing in Florida, I really couldn’t take any more of rehabbing at the spring training facility. The Nationals were wonderful and took fantastic care of me. But I just couldn’t see myself doing it for another year at the age of 31 there at the spring training facility.

“We moved back home, and the plan was to go back to school at William & Mary and work on rehab there,” Bray said. “Get a semester under my belt, and by then I should have been able to come back and play. If it didn’t go well, I’d be in school working toward my degree. But I tore my labrum again. My body kind of told me I was done and I started looking at other avenues.”

Bill Bray’s avenue is now representing players. Armed with a law degree, he is a top prospect in the game again.

You can hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.


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