Mark Bradford stretches out on the bleachers, soaking in the Potrero Hill sun while waiting for a Tuesday afternoon baseball practice to begin. His teammates have yet to arrive but Bradford is already lacing up his cleats and putting on his glove, eager to begin warmups.
He climbs down from the bleachers, summons an assistant coach, and effortlessly zips the ball 90 feet, showing off the cannon of an arm that shoots balls across a field.
After a few minutes of catch and a quick meeting with head coach Dan Grossman, Bradford takes charge.
“Come on, everybody!” he yells. “Bring it in! Let’s go!”
And suddenly the senior is surrounded by his Mission High School teammates ready for practice. Grossman then takes over as practice begins, but the coach recognizes that for this team, he needs Bradford to be the vocal leader.
“He’s a coach’s dream,” Grossman says of Bradford. “You couldn’t ask for a better leader.”
He’s also one of the league’s best.
With only one game remaining in the regular season—against Marshall on Thursday as part of a series that will determine the league championship—Bradford leads Mission in on-base-percentage (.644) and doubles (seven). He is second on the team in batting average (.462) and hits (18), and he ranks third in runs (17), RBIs (13) and stolen bases (five).
Sometimes Bradford, five-foot-six and deceptively powerful, is emotional and outspoken, energizing his teammates with words of encouragement. But he does more than just talk. He spends extra time carrying equipment and organizing practice, doing the work that most teams reserve for unproven freshmen.
“I just like helping out,” he says. “I like being a leader. Some people don’t help out, but coach needs us to help him. It’s an example that needs to be set for the freshmen and the younger guys.”
For Bradford, that means gathering bats, balls and other equipment, showing up to practice on time (even though he has a 45-minute commute from Visitation Valley on non-school days), and commanding his teammates’ attention on and off the field.
“He’s a model of consistency,” Grossman says. “Anything you ever need from him, you know he’ll do it.”
While baseball is Bradford’s only sport, he has found various other ways to contribute to the athletic department, working as a P.E. teaching assistant and filming games and practices for the football and basketball teams.
“He’s one of those few kids that you know will put on that uniform and represent Mission well every day of the week,” says Athletic Director Scott Kennedy. “He’s just a total class, character guy.”
Bradford plans to continue his camerawork at the City College of San Francisco, where he will major in broadcast journalism beginning this fall.
“It’s been my dream since I was 12 years old,” says Bradford, who adds that he feels comfortable in front of the camera but wants to spend his future behind it. Bradford will also try out for the college’s baseball team, beginning with preseason workouts this summer.
If he does make the City College roster, it will be the culmination of a baseball career that almost never even got started. Despite having played in recreational leagues as a fifth and sixth grader, Bradford never made the team at Giannini Middle School. After moving to Mission High School, he had no such problem. Instantly, he was a Bear. And he immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup.
“I was basically doing the same things I had already been doing,” Bradford says of his skills at the time. “I just needed to be somewhere where the coach could see what I could do.”
Four years later, Bradford has pushed the Bears to the brink of their second consecutive San Francisco B Division championship. Either way, he’s happy to have seized this opportunity to lead on the field, in the classroom and all over campus.
“Being a leader is just part of who I am,” he says. “I’m just having fun.”