In the fields along the winding Cosumnes River just outside Elk Grove, an emerald sparkles on the campus of Bradshaw Christian High School.
The flicker shines off the deep green grass that runs exactly 385 feet to straightaway center from home plate, 305 feet down the lines, and maybe 360 into the left-center-field power alley identified by the sign there as “Vaughn’s Valley.”
They call it that in honor of former major leaguer Greg Vaughn, the driving force behind Greg Vaughn Field. Yes, the slugger best known for hitting 50 home runs in 1998 for the San Diego Padres gave the school the lion’s share of the money it took to build the gorgeous field for the Pride. But more than money went into the naming rights. There was a lot of heart and soul and time and teaching, too.
Now, the high school with an enrollment of 350 is a baseball power in any size. It even notched a win a couple of years back over Elk Grove in a season when the Thundering Herd won a big-school section championship.
Vaughn hit 355 home runs in a 15-year major-league career with the Brewers, Padres, Reds, Rays and Rockies. He was born on the Third of July 50 years ago this summer. He was raised in Meadowview. He’s a Kennedy High grad, and he is hailed as hero at Bradshaw Christian for his work there as an assistant baseball coach and mentor.
“He’s a special person,” Bradshaw Christian baseball coach Drew Rickert said Friday after the Pride routed visiting Vacaville Christian 11-1 to improve its record to 17-4. “He’s got a great heart for the kids. He could be other places, but he chooses to be out here. He treats these kids like his own son. He’s hard on them, but he loves them. He cares about them. He gives it to them straight. He gives it to them the major-league way to do it.”
Vaughn’s son, Cory, plays for the New York Mets’ Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas. Cory also plays a key role in the Vaughn/Bradshaw story. He went to Bradshaw Christian starting as a kindergartner. When he was ready for high school, Bradshaw Christian did not have a varsity sports program in 2004, so Cory transferred to Jesuit. Then he went to San Diego State and in 2010 was drafted in the fourth round by the Mets.
Dad, of course, supported his son all the way. But something about Bradshaw Christian struck the old man as real. So while the son played at Jesuit, the father stayed with Bradshaw.
You are informed of the Pride’s baseball prowess the minute you walk into Greg Vaughn Field, thanks to the pennants on the backstop. They document the Sac-Joaquin Section baseball championships: 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014.
Along the way, the school even produced a professional. In 2011, the Toronto Blue Jays drafted Brady Dragmire, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound right-handed pitcher. Dragmire signed out of high school. He pitches for the Dunedin Blue Jays in the Florida State League, an an Advanced Class-A division.
Dragmire’s folks love Greg Vaughn.
“He even gets into the van and drives the team to Vacaville, Golden Sierra or wherever, with all these knuckleheads in the back,” Kirk Dragmire said. “He doesn’t come in and showboat you. He comes in and works. He teaches the kids. You know what he’s all about? The next level. Don’t be satisfied where you are today. Work, and get better.”
An outside commitment kept Vaughn from attending Friday’s game against Vacaville Christian, a contest that turned into an unforgiving dose of payback for the visitors who imposed a 1-0 defeat on the Pride earlier this season. Rickert said Vaughn still makes 60 percent of Bradshaw Christian’s practices and games and that he will be with the club when the title defense begins in a couple of weeks.
Another Dragmire is on the scene. Grant was hitting .619 after Friday’s win, with five home runs, eight doubles, four triples and 18 walks. The senior’s 2-for-2 performance against Vacaville Christian included a line-drive home run just over the fence and just beneath the “Vaughn’s Valley” sign.
Grant also pops the catcher’s mitt in the upper 80s. He has struck out 58 batters and allowed only 22 hits in 412/3 innings. As a center fielder, he has thrown out four runners this year.
The younger Dragmire is a bit shorter than his older brother, which might explain why the colleges aren’t breaking down his door. The title of genius will be bestowed on the one that does. The kid can ball.
“Coach Vaughn is one of the greatest guys I know,” Grant said. “I love him to death.”
Word has spread in the region about Bradshaw Christian’s baseball success. The program this year has attracted student-athletes from Folsom, Rancho Murieta, the Pocket and North Natomas as well as Elk Grove. It’s likely to attract a few more in coming years. The growth plan calls for an expansion to 900 students.
You can talk academics and religion and discipline and a whole lot of other things to account for the school’s appeal. You can also talk baseball. And you have to talk Greg Vaughn.
“It’s a uniqueness we have,” Vaughn said on the phone last week before he scooted out of town on business. “Baseball is just a part of it. The most important thing to me is to give these kids the best opportunity I can, to teach them baseball the right way, to let them know it’s about them. It’s not about me. I played. I made it to the highest level, and it’s something I want to give back, preparing them for life and education, teaching them about accountability and making them productive citizens in our community.”
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.