Bracamonte puts fans first

Astros bullpen catcher has a legacy of generosity

March 14th, 2016

It was a scene somewhat surreal for people with no prior knowledge of how Javier Bracamonte operates, but not at all surprising for those who watch the Astros' bullpen catcher on a semi-regular basis.

Throwing mementos up into the stands -- mostly to kids -- has been standard practice for Bracamonte, the long-time Astros support staffer. He's been doing it for as long as he's been employed by the club, which means for 16 seasons, fans lucky enough to be sitting near the Astros' bullpen have reaped the benefits of Bracamonte's friendly, generous approach to his job.

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But there was one night in particular that stood out as something more than just a well-meaning gesture. And once it hit social media, the popular Astros staple became somewhat of a viral sensation.

It should first be noted that this incident took place in Kansas City, and that it happened during the playoffs, and that it took place after a loss -- the Astros' final loss of the season, a Game 5 defeat to the eventual world champions in the American League Division Series.

So this wasn't exactly a wonderful moment for the Astros and those who work for them. It couldn't have been a happy time for Bracamonte, all by himself in a bullpen void of relievers, most of whom were called on to stop the bleeding caused by the Royals' offense -- an effort that went for naught.

But instead of packing up his belongings, Bracamonte opted to throw them out -- to Royals fans. Candy, gum, baseballs, shin guards, chest protectors, gloves -- really, anything that was in Bracamonte's equipment bag was emptied out and given away. Some items went to kids. Others to the hecklers who had been razzing him all night.

"It seemed like they forgot for a minute that their team had just won the playoff series," Bracamonte said.

Royals fan David Dahmer happened to be watching, and later he posted what he witnessed on Facebook.

"It was so cool to see someone showing kids how it's supposed to be done," Dahmer wrote. "I was sitting there just shocked."

Dahmer's post has been shared over 27,000 times.

Fast forward five months, and Bracamonte is back in Kissimmee, Fla., with the Astros, fulfilling his duties as baseball distributor (of approximately 100 dozen baseballs per day), batting-practice thrower, baseball retriever and -- perhaps most significantly -- good-will ambassador to the fans.

Thirty minutes before home Spring Training games, Bracamonte can be spotted making his way from the Astros' clubhouse behind left field to the Astros' bullpen. Fans are lined up on the patio area, along the railing, hoping for any kind of acknowledgement from members of the team.

Bracamonte never takes a day off from this part of his day.

"I'm from Venezuela, and it's very common in Venezuela to see players playing catch with the kids, talking to the fans," Bracamonte said. "I guess it's the Latin culture in baseball."

Bracamonte, a former New York Yankees farmhand who retired as a player after stints in the Venezuelan League in the mid-1990s, remembers going to the ballpark as a kid to watch past stars like Bo Diaz, Tony Armas, Andres Galarraga, Al Pedrique and Bobby Ramos. Those images stick out in his mind, and he understands how much one small gesture from someone in uniform can leave an imprint on the memory.

And it takes, what, five, 10 minutes out of his day?

"The big leagues. to me, it's for the kids," Bracamonte said. "For generations [of families] to bring the kids, the grandkids. You see in the movies, a guy comes for the first time to Yankee Stadium. He sees Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio. And he brings his kids, and they bring their kids. It's the fun of baseball."

It's also a way for Bracamonte to show how grateful he is to be making a living in the big leagues, long after his playing career ended. Bracamonte was hired in 2001, on the recommendation of Richard Hidalgo, to throw a round of batting practice as a fill-in. Bracamonte threw the second round of BP that day -- and every day for the next decade and a half.

To put it in the simplest of terms, Bracamonte is happy to be here, and he is happy to share that joy with the fans who populate the ballparks where he works.

"Coming from another country, it's a dream come true to be in the big leagues for so many years," Bracamonte said. "It's fun. The fun is to see the smiles on the kids' faces. I love that part."