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ironman
02-19-2007, 09:36 AM
'Chasing my dream'
Nine-fingered marine serious about making majors


Cooper Brannan wants to be more than just a poster boy for the Marine Corps. He wants to make it to the majors on his own ability.
Cooper Brannan wants to be more than just a poster boy for the Marine Corps. He wants to make it to the majors on his own ability.
Lance Cpl. Charlie Chavez/Chevron


Cooper Brannan couldn't help himself -- he had to pack his baseball glove. And within a month he had half the guys in his squad asking their parents to ship their gloves out to Iraq, too.

Earlier this week, Brannan signed a minor-league contract with the San Diego Padres. That's exactly three years after the 22-year-old started drawing pitching targets on old oil barrels inside his base in Hitt, Iraq. And exactly 15 months after he blew up his left hand.

"I always told my Dad I was going to be a professional baseball player," the strapping right-hander said. "When I was little, I'd always said, 'Dad, I'm going to make it.'"

If -- or as Brannan says, "when" -- he does, it'll easily rank as one of the most unusual routes to the bigs this century. And it'll make for a better movie than The Rookie.

A hard-throwing reliever and a harder-hitting defensive end at Highland High in Gilbert, Ariz., Brannan entertained a few college scholarship offers his senior year. His father had been a marine, though, and 9/11, Brannan said, had hit him "pretty hard."

"We were in a time where our country needed our help," he said. "I thought the Marine Corps could give me some discipline. My baseball career could come later."

Carrying that optimism and not much else, Brannan graduated boot camp in October 2003. He finished infantry school that December, logged a month at a duty station in California and in February he was in Hitt, some 45 miles outside Baghdad.

In a place where insurgents and IEDs are almost daily sights, marines, Brannan said, still "can make a game out of anything."

Once the other guys got their gloves in, there were games of catch. Someone corralled a wiffle ball and bat and that was good for more games. Brannan's favorite when the flak jackets came off, though, were the be-Greg Maddux ones. Out there in Iraq, in a wired-in base, he learned the difference between chucking and controlling.

Brannan started hitting the smallest circle on the barrel more often than anyone else, and landing his rock closest to the target rock his squad would pick out -- and then aim for -- some 50 yards away. Guys in his squad started asking, "Why didn't you go anywhere?"

Which makes one wonder, "How far can Brannan go past Iraq?"

Brannan came back to California for stateside duty in October 2004 and was redeployed a year later, this time to Fallujah. Barely two months into that second tour, Brannan was checking his squad's readiness to leave the base. An honor man at boot camp -- where he ranked no. 2 among 883 marines -- he was now in charge of 12 marines, which made it his job to ensure everyone's ammo, water and other essentials were all in place.

One of his men was missing a big percussion grenade. Brannan reached back to give him his, and -- boom!

Brannan's pinky, ring finger and thumb on his left hand came off. He remembers thinking, This must be a mortar attack, we're all done. Then he went into shock. Brannan was eventually taken to Balboa Hospital in San Diego, where doctors reattached his thumb and, with some inserted hip bone, fused the tip of his ring finger. The pinky, however, was gone. That snagged him the nickname "Niner" (for nine fingers) and a brutal bout of therapy.

"It was definitely a challenge," he said of the three months of rehab and occupational therapy. "To have to cope with not knowing if I could be able to play sports ... I was definitely down. I'd look at my hand and my pinky was missing and it was just awful."

And then, Brannan said, he'd "see a guy roll by in a wheelchair and his two legs would be missing."

Ultimately, though, perspective only has so much power. Brannan needed baseball.

TonyK
02-19-2007, 05:54 PM
That's a terrific story about a young man who deserves a chance. I hope someday he makes his ML debut and the SD fans support him.

Old Sweater
02-19-2007, 08:36 PM
That's a terrific story about a young man who deserves a chance. I hope someday he makes his ML debut and the SD fans support him.

I second that. The military support in San Diego alone should show him a lot of support.

Big_Mac
02-19-2007, 08:41 PM
great article.

good luck to him on trying to accomplish his goal in the big league, hope i see him in a big league uni someday.

EdmondsFan#1
02-19-2007, 08:52 PM
Good article and he sounds like a good man too.

I think he has a fair shot at making the majors, he has to be quite a determined man to join the Marines and to keep pursuing a MLB career despite only having 9 fingers and currently being involved in the war overseas.

Hardwork, Motivation, Determination, and Persevearance is the key to sucess; in my opinion.