From Boston to Bridgeport: The Drake Britton Story
October 5, 2017
Tonight the Boston Red Sox will play for another shot at a World Series championship. A shot at another ring and the glory it represents. But one former Red Sox World Series champ – pitcher Drake Britton- is at his home in Texas, fighting a battle between his demons and hope.
Whether he succeeds lies partially in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a city once considered America’s economic pinnacle, but now just a city home to an unemployment rate higher than the national average. Bridgeport was the home of the Bridgeport Bluefish, but on September 10th, 2017 the team announced they had played their final season there after 20 seasons.
On July 21st 2013, Britton made his MLB debut, pitching the ninth inning for the Red Sox against their arch rivals the New York Yankees. Between 2013 and 2014, he appeared in 28 games for the Sox and compiled a 1-1, 2.93 stat line, which remains his MLB career stat line today.
He made $ 1400 a month this year as a Bluefish.
(The Ballpark at Harbor Yard, home of the Bridgeport Bluefish.)
July 22nd, 2017
“My decisions led me here. I’m an addict plain and simple and I’m in the gutter here…… Everyday I think about what could have been.”
It is 3:15 in Section 7, row JJ, seat 13 at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard. A rugged man walks up from the field, sits down three seats away with his elbows on his knees, hands joined just a touch beneath his icy blue eyes that cut the air above the field in front of him. His body shifts as he searches for his memories.
The Bridgeport Bluefish are a team with as much affiliation to the big leagues as a beer league squad. To understand why Drake is here today, I must get into his past. I have the brush, colors and paper but only his testimony can paint the picture.
His right foot is pushing against the seat in front of us, he tilts his head to spit some chaw. His face is weathered and his stomach hides a boulder. A breeze hits and an indelible smile emerges. I strain to contain my unquenchable curiosity. His broad chest is visibly struggling to communicate with his mouth. He looks at me as a whisper of his past self.
“When I was a kid, Butch Guzman (who also coached Andy Petitte), came up to my mom and told her ‘Your son is going to pitch in the big leagues.’ That’s when I knew.”
Britton’s fame progressed steadily through high school in Texas, which is where a dream turned into reality.
“After my junior year, I was an AFLAC All American and (radar) guns started popping up every time I took the hill.”
One of the trigger fingers belonged to a Texas A&M scout. Pleased by what their scouts saw, A&M offered Britton a scholarship which he accepted.Then the 2007 MLB draft happened.
Originally, the Rangers told Drake they would take him in the first supplemental round; they didn’t. Then the Nationals told him they were going to take him in either the second or third rounds. Britton was still on the board in the 23rd round and Boston came calling.
“I set my signing bonus at one million. I did that because I kind of wanted to go to A&M, but Jason McCleod, a scout for the Red Sox called and told me to go play summer ball and basically prove my worth. So I kept tellin’ A&M I’m waiting on Boston to offer and they didn’t til the last two minutes.”
That’s not an exaggeration. Boston called and offered Britton a contract, with a $700K signing bonus, two minutes before the deadline. He had two minutes to make a life-altering decision.
“I asked my parents what I should do and they told me it’s my choice. I mean who wouldn’t take that kind of money?”
The Aggies head coach then and now is Rob Childress. Britton signed and called Childress to inform him of his decision.
“(Childress) said to me, and I quote, ‘Ya know Drake, if you wanna go play minor league ball and get released then go ahead.’ That proved he didn’t give a fuck about me. I made the right choice.”
Defiant 18 year old hot-shot athletes is a story as old as time. But 99.99% of them don’t have $700k in their pockets. If they do, they usually have a shovel in their hand and start digging disastrous holes for themselves.
It’s 4:15 and the Bluefish have finished batting practice. The wind picks up as Britton takes a moment to collect himself and stares towards the left field fence. Four years ago he would be staring at Boston’s iconic Green Monster; instead, today he’s staring at a fake brick fence covering a 10 foot high wall.
He puts his feet down, lets his arms dangle and holds his hands together between his legs. Britton’s mouth fumbles for words, his eyes are fraught with conflict, his face begs for understanding and tells a tale of torment.
By 4:30 the sun is gone, covered by hungry clouds searching this barren heath of a stadium to seeking to unleash war.
Ryan Crofts, the Bluefish’s Director of Baseball Operations and Public Relations comes to let us know that Britton has to do a pre-game radio spot now; we make arrangements to meet up after the game and I begin to walk the concourse down the first base line with Crofts when we decide to pull up to a wooden table with no seats.
Crofts’ title and responsibilities are galaxies apart. He has carried toilets from the suite level floor three stories down to the clubhouse, installed every sponsor advertisement on the outfield wall and manually waxed on and waxed off the whole concourse. He’s wearing slacks and a polo with sneakers.
“The forecast says it is going to rain.”
It’s 5:30 PM, thirty minutes before first pitch and Crofts tells me to meet him in the press box as he scurries to the main gate behind home plate to do his job. I enter the press box. The walls are a light shade of blue that I suspect is due to neglect.
The room has two rows, one higher than the other so everyone can view the diamond. There are three conference room style chairs on the top row. Elevated to the far right of the room between the rows facing where all media members can see is a General Electric 12 inch TV with a built in VCR that the team must have gotten off Noah’s Ark. Crofts is opposite the antiquated TV, talking to himself about the weather.
At 5:36, Britton’s teammate Sean Burroughs starts warming up down the right field line. At 36, he looks like his water is about to break, even from 400 feet away. The MLB journeyman, who Britton informs me is the only person to ever win a Little League World Series and an Olympic Gold Medal, begins jogging towards center chasing ambition and the desire to recapture a lost dream.
I don’t know where it all went wrong for everyone here tonight but somehow it did. If life had played out as expected, Britton would be in Anaheim right now getting ready to play the Angels, Burroughs would still be in his home state of California playing for the Padres, and Crofts would be working for a MLB team.
It’s 6:15 and the first pitch is a ball.
Instead of watching the game, I’m trying to pinpoint just exactly where it all went wrong for Britton, who sits on a empty bucket in the bullpen down the right field line. How could someone so blessed be so dumb? Dumb enough to make mistake after mistake? Why wouldn’t he get help sooner? Why does he even still want to play for a team like the Bridgeport Bluefish?
I find a spot on a picnic table in the beer garden down the left field line; speaking distance away from the Bluefish’s opponent’s bullpen. I finish my drink and tell the relievers to watch my seat as I go back for two beers this time. They oblige.
When I finally get back, it’s already the top of the 4th and the lights to the stadium aren’t on yet, casting a shadow on the field.
In the dark, I can’t locate Britton as I stare at the Bluefish bullpen until he rolls up his sleeves, crosses his arms and displays unmistakeable tattoos.
Even from here he looks upset. The lights suddenly blast on, and all 4,004 fans are now being treated to a pleasant viewing experience. It is worth noting there are 43,829 fans in attendance watching the Red Sox tonight. Perhaps that is why Britton’s scowl is still visible from across the field. He wouldn’t be here if a seductive past hadn’t consumed him.
At the yard, it is getting close to the 9th here. I race to the press box and meet Crofts for the bottom of the inning. We watch the Bluefish close out the game winning 6-3 and at 8:55 we begin trekking down to the clubhouse to meet Britton.
Pretty quickly Britton emerges from the clubhouse and we squat on a raggedy old training table, sweating from the clubhouse shower steam. The training table we’re sitting on has probably caused more injuries than it prevented. Humans aren’t supposed to be where we are right now. But of course, there’s no better setting for Britton to tell me where he went off course, 10 minutes after a home team win on Health and Wellness night.
“I was always too afraid to confront my own truth, so I tried to fix everything but my problem. In Salem (2011) I used to drink a whole 18 pack of Bud Light in my room, by myself. I’d have a bad outing, drink angrily then wonder why I shit the bed my next outing. The truth pissed me off.”
Looking back on it, his stat line at season’s end read like a Steven King novel, 1-13, 6.91 ERA. Why Boston’s front office to placed him on the 40 man roster at season’s end after posting those stats can probably only be answered by God.
Now, if you’re reading this telling yourself you’d still get help even if it meant not being on the 40 man, remember that the MLB minimum salary for anyone on the 40 man was 450K per year. He was the only one behind the siege walls he’d built for himself knowing full well the luxury afforded to those who do the same.
“I’ve always been really selfish and I still very much am. But I’m not ignorant like I was then. Back then I always kind of said “Look at me and look at you.”
Britton was arrested for DUI during 2013 Spring Training in a very public way. By his own estimation he had about 7 beers that night and was slated to start for the big club the next day. Instead, he was optioned to Double A.
“At the time, I was just incredibly embarrassed. But I ended up having a pretty good year and we won the World Series so I guess I just chalked it up to a one time mistake.”
Later that year he made his MLB debut against the Yankees. He was in the bullpen when the Sox clinched the AL East and was popping bottles with David Ortiz in the clubhouse. That October, he earned a World Series ring and hadn’t even thought about getting help. His vices began to swallow him and he kept on digging, blind to the blood his hands were spilling. Impervious to the pain his loved ones were feeling.
Throughout his MLB career, Britton had an exemption for the prescription pills Vyvanse and Adderall, both drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Both drugs are also amphetamines.
Still, in August of last year, Britton then on the Detroit Tigers faced another moment of adversity. Despite his supposed exemption, MLB imposed a fifty game suspension on Britton for a violation of the league’s PED rules.
“Adderall is more destructive to the game than any other PED.”
I’m searching for that moment of clarity that all addicts experience in life. I know his addiction may have been Adderall or alcohol, but those are merely thorns attached to a root. Something has happened in his life that only he knows. Britton innocuously pulls out his phone. I glance at it and though I can’t make it out completely, I think his screensaver is a picture of his newborn daughter Belle. Naturally, I ask about her and he tells me she was born last November and she lives with his wife Jackie in Dallas.
“When my daughter was born, I had my come to Jesus moment…my dad and I were on our ranch in Waco and he suggested we take a night ride on the gator. We stopped in this field, nothing but us and the stars and I came clean about everything…..”
Just then, Britton’s body loses something. I can’t tell what it is, but an exhaustion is swallowing him. He’s leaning toward me. His chest is heavy.
“I’ve never told anyone but my family about this, but I’ve had depression my whole life and I battle it every single day.”
I can’t help but ask, “Have you ever thought about ending it?”
“At times yes.”
Before leaving I ask Britton how sober he is.
“I’ve stopped digging holes for myself, trust me. My family is the light of my life now”
For centuries, humans have dug holes in the hopes of finding treasure that would help them escape the life they lived. Like the prospectors, Drake Britton dug that hole his whole life until he looked around; found himself surrounded by darkness and realized he could dig no further. He had no choice but to quit, let the light that the stars illuminate guide him through the darkness, help him climb out and go back home.
The stars light up the street as I walk to the train station to go home. I catch the 10:42 train.
October 5th, 2017
We all get pissed about who we really are at times. Britton, had to come to terms with an unfortunate truth. Reality never falls in line with the grand illusions we envision for ourselves. The only life Drake Britton ever wanted to live was the life he projected of himself, but dreams have no power over inherited flaws.
Today, Drake is hanging out with Jackie, his wife and Belle, his year old daughter at their home in Dallas, Texas and is sober as can be.
“To Boston, I’m so sorry for how everything went and the embarrassment I brought on y’all.”
Drake hopes to play once again in Boston.