ABERDEEN — For Aberdeen IronBirds relief pitcher Brandon Bonilla, his experience with professional baseball started at a much younger age.
Bonilla, son of former six-time all-star and three-time silver slugger Bobby Bonilla, looks to carve out his own path to playing in the majors.
The 24-year-old Bonilla recalled being in clubhouses as a young boy and meeting some of baseball’s greats. From these experiences, Bonilla learned a lot about the game that he loves playing today.
“Very thankful that [my father] had played a certain amount of seasons in the big leagues,” Bonilla said. “It’s been great being able to see different baseball players, different Major League Baseball players from Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, [Tom] Glavine, [John] Smoltz, [Greg] Maddox. I’m very thankful to see certain players and just be around it, be in the clubhouse. So, at a young age, it was definitely awesome, and I’m very thankful for that experience.”
Bobby Bonilla, who spent 16 seasons in the majors, notably with the Pirates, Mets and Orioles, was known throughout the league for the damage he would cause with his bat, but for Brandon, his most valuable weapon is his left arm. Even as a pitcher, Brandon loves to hear his dad’s tips on hitting the baseball.
“I was born left-handed and I’ve always played the field, I always loved to play outfield and first base,” Bonilla said. “I’ve always loved to pitch, as well, but to this day I still love hitting. I talk hitting every day with my dad and my godfather, as well. Hitting is very dear to me and it’s important in this game.”
Bonilla’s godfather is baseball legend and Major League Baseball career home run leader Barry Bonds. The combination of Bonds and Bobby add a great deal of baseball knowledge to Brandon’s resume.
Even with the added pressure from his father’s legacy that Bobby created in the major leagues, Bonilla is not letting the success of his father derail his optimism of making it into the major league.
“At the end of the day it’s my father,” Bonilla said. “He did what he did at a very high level, which I am very thankful for. Now, it’s my turn to play out the game and live my own dreams.”
Last season in the New York-Penn League, Bonilla was very successful, striking out 33 batters in 18 2-3 innings with a low ERA of only 1.93 for the IronBirds. This year, the second-year pro has made five appearances, posting a 13/2 strikeout to walk ratio with a 3.24 ERA.
The former 2016 13th-round pick still knows that he has a lot to improve on before earning a promotion to the major leagues.
“I just need to be overall better, as a lot of guys would say,” Bonilla said. “From a mental standpoint and from a physical standpoint, I want to be at my highest level in both of those degrees. Obviously, people want to say command or this and that, but at the same time, it’s something that takes time. So, it’s just baby steps and just making sure I am going in the right direction.”
Bonilla is part of a growing crop of second-generation baseball players of former major league greats. Former IronBird Ryan Ripken is another name who is currently making his way through the Orioles’ minor league ranks, in hope of reaching the same point as his father, Cal Ripken Jr. Bonilla offered his own perspective on the increase of players with the same unique background that he has.
“It’s absolutely great,” Bonilla said. “It’s cool to cross paths with guys like Ripken. Ripken and I were in the same clubhouse at the same age. So, it is very cool to see these other second generation kids coming through these systems because at the end of the day, we all want to get to the level that our fathers once were at. It’s an awesome journey and it’s cool to see other players, as well, getting in on that journey.”
Bonilla continues his journey in his second season with the IronBirds. So far, Bonilla has looked just as sharp as last season and is getting closer to advancing up the minor league ladder.
“Baseball is a game that takes time,” Bonilla explained. “It’s patience. It’s a game of failure, as well. So, you are going to have ups and downs, and it is how we deal with those battles.
“From the positives to the negatives, it’s all part of it at the end of the day.”