Bregman’s D.C. baseball ties run deep

With the 2019 World Series starting tonight – Houston Astros against the Washington Nationals – the family connection between Astros star Alex Bregman and baseball in the nation’s capital will be a popular storyline for broadcasters and writers. Author Jeffrey Marx first shared the story in his 2015 book Walking with Tigers: A Collection of LSU Sports Stories, which features a 44-page chapter on Alex Bregman. Here is an excerpt.

 

By Jeffrey Marx

 

His love of the game is a family thing.

It started, long before Alex was born, with his paternal grandfather. After serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, Stanley Irwin Bregman had a distinguished career in his hometown of Washington, D.C. Starting in the 1950s, he served in numerous political roles supporting high-level Democrats including Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, and Walter Mondale. He also formed a law firm that specialized in government relations. For a sports-loving guy, though, none of that could match the joy of his position with the Washington Senators. As general counsel of the old Major League Baseball organization – now the Texas Rangers – it was Bregman who in 1969 negotiated the hiring of the great Ted Williams as manager of the team. The Senators lasted only three more years before departing to Texas, but it was a thrilling time for Ben and Sam Bregman, the schoolboy sons of the team lawyer. They often visited the RFK Stadium clubhouse, where they talked to the ballplayers and dreamed of someday being just like them. The boys also got to know one of the most famous men in baseball history, and Ted Williams even knew their names. He gave the boys bats and team jackets and – best of all – he gifted them with his time and kindness. Sam Bregman, now fifty, still has a black-and-white photo Williams signed for him more than forty years ago. “To Sammy,” it is inscribed. “Your pal … Ted Williams.” The photo has never lost its magical power. With a mere glance at it, Sam is carried across time and space to the innocence of childhood and the unsullied simplicity of believing in heroes.

There is one other baseball-related possession – if a painful memory can be labeled that way – that has never lost its hold on Sam. It is the story of his decision to stop playing his favorite game. In the fall of 1981, Sam followed his older brother to the University of New Mexico, where Ben was on scholarship as a second baseman. Sam joined the team as a non-scholarship, walk-on player hoping to work his way into the lineup, and he got off to a good start with an impressive home run in an early-fall game. His father was even there – visiting from D.C. – to see it. Sam was thrilled that his dad witnessed his first collegiate homer. Then things went downhill. Sam had a tough time hitting anything but fastballs. He was not included on the travel team for the spring season. So he quit. There was no “Oh, I’ll just work harder to make this happen” or “You keep watching me, coach! I’ll show you what I can do!” There was only this: “I’m done.” Thirty-two years later – now a prominent attorney with a lovely wife and three thriving children – Sam offers a harsh assessment of his decision to quit at New Mexico: “Biggest mistake of my life … biggest regret of my life. It still hurts to think that I didn’t give it my all.”

Alex Bregman has heard about this for as long as he can remember. He’s heard about it because Sam is his dad. With blood flowing in a straight line from Stan to Sam to first child Alex, the love of baseball was just as much a part of the passing down as the plasma and platelets.

A family photo shows little three-year-old Alex with Stan – Alex then called him Zayde, Yiddish for grandfather – at a minor-league baseball game in the Bregmans’ adopted hometown of Albuquerque. A giant tub of popcorn, about the size of Alex’s head, shares a ballpark seat with him. Grandson and grandfather are both gripping the tub, and the boy’s smile says it all: What could be better than this?

Alex started playing tee ball when he was four. He collected baseball cards, piles of them, learning the names and positions of all the best big leaguers. He became a bat boy for the University of New Mexico Lobos. He immersed himself in the online world of fantasy baseball, once managing a dozen teams at the same time. Then there was the matter of naming the family dogs. The discussion with his parents was never about whether the brother-sister pair of Labrador retrievers would be named after baseball players. It was only about which players to choose. The male was ultimately named Koufax, as in pitching legend Sandy Koufax of the old Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. Gender discrepancy notwithstanding, the female was named Jeter, in honor of longtime New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter.

Baseball also gave Alex something of a childhood mantra that still echoes in his mind: Bang that ball! Bang that ball! It started with Zayde shouting that to his grandson during his early days of tee ball – Stan had by then moved to New Mexico as well – and it never really stopped. Straight through Alex’s high school years, Stan almost never missed a game, and his favorite words of encouragement always stayed the same: Bang that ball! Bang that ball!

 

Learn more about Walking with Tigers or order your copy here:

http://www.jeffreymarx.org/books/walking-with-tigers