OAKLAND, Calif. – Brad Ziegler has been a Blue Angels buff for years. Come Jan. 8, the Oakland Athletics reliever will take a ride with the U.S. Navy’s elite flight demonstration squadron as it begins training near San Diego.
“I cannot wait,” Ziegler said in a phone interview from his home in Springfield, Mo. “I’ve wanted to fly in a fighter jet since I was 4 years old.”
He knows now is the best time to do it, while people still recognize his name – or at least recall his story as the guy who twice fractured his skull in baseball before reaching the big leagues.
The hype surrounding Ziegler’s record-setting rookie season with Oakland this year certainly didn’t hurt his chances of making this happen.
His agent was onboard to help and the brother-in-law of Ziegler’s sister provided another boost. He’s training to be a fighter pilot with the Navy.
Ziegler, the lanky right-hander with the sidearm delivery that has done him well so far, tied the major league mark for relievers by pitching 39 straight shutout innings to start his career.
He had his streak stopped by the American League champion Tampa Bay Devil Rays in August.
He also set three other records – quite a big deal for someone with his medical luck. He started this season in Triple-A and nearly asked for his release when things weren’t going his way. Then, he made his major league debut for the A’s on May 31.
Ziegler emerged as the A’s closer late in the season – replacing the demoted and now departed Huston Street – though general manager Billy Beane indicated during this month’s winter meetings that Ziegler and Joey Devine could share the ninth-inning duties in 2009.
The 29-year-old Ziegler figures now is the perfect time to celebrate and do something fun for himself after progressing so far.
Released by the Philadelphia organization at the end of spring training in 2004, he spent a few months in the independent Northern League before signing with Oakland that June.
Then in September, while playing in Class A, he was hit in the right temple by a line drive off the bat of current Giants outfielder Fred Lewis.
Last January, Ziegler had finished working at youth baseball camp back home in Springfield and was throwing hard with a friend from 120 feet. Suddenly, a kid jumped out and tried to catch the ball – instead, it deflected off the boy’s glove, hit Ziegler square in the middle of his forehead and opened a bloody gash.
With all that, he’s eager and unafraid about taking a ride with the stunt-flying Blue Angels team.
“If I don’t take a shot at it after this year, I will always wonder if I could have done it,” Ziegler said.
“Their No. 1 concern is for your safety and they won’t do anything to make you sick or get you hurt. They’re making me take a physical first, too.”
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