Feb. 16, 2007 -- Cooper Brannan is trading one uniform for another. The 22-year-old Marine corporal signed a Minor League contract this week to pitch for the San Diego Padres, despite an injury he suffered while in Iraq.
"They say Marines don't cry, right? This is one of the biggest dreams of my whole life," Brannan said. "It's every little kid's dream, you know, and now that I'm older and I'm able to fulfill this dream … I'm going to work hard at it and I am going to strive to be the best that I can be."
His Major League pitching opportunity came during a chance encounter with the CEO of the Padres, whom he met at a radio show appearance, after Brannan returned home from two tours of duty in Iraq.
While in Iraq, baseball was a constant source of comfort for Brannan.
"We had our parents send our gloves over to Iraq. On our off time, you know, in between patrols on base, we'd throw the ball around … whenever we could," he explained.
During his second tour of duty in Falluja, Brannon was injured. He was the squad leader on a patrol when he noticed that one of his Marines was missing a grenade, so he moved to lend one from his own supply.
"I reached back on the left side of my flack. I had an extra one. And as I handed it to him, it just went off in my hand," Brannon said.
He was awarded the purple heart after he sustained serious wounds to his left hand, where three fingers were severed, including his thumb. Doctors were only able to save two of them.
"At first, I was a little down in the dumps and then I came out of it seeing other Marines that had 10 times worse injuries than me," he said, "and I just looked at myself, and I said I have nothing to complain about. … God's blessed me with still having a hand."
Meeting With the Padres
After multiple surgeries and months of rehabilitation to his left hand, friends encouraged Brannon, a right-handed pitcher, to get back to throwing a baseball around.
This week he did more than toss the ball -- he was signed with the Padres after a Marine buddy recommended him to Padres CEO Sandy Alderson when they were both making appearances on a local radio station.
"I don't want to say he's a shy guy, but he's very modest, and he never would have brought it up on his own," said Pfc. Jeffrey Huben.
Huben decided to talk with Alderson and vouch for his friend's abilities. "All I said was 'Sir, you know, I've seen this guy throw a ball a couple of times, and I feel that he can really bring the heat and I think you should really take a look at him,'" Huben said.
Alderson did, and believes Brannan has a shot at a professional career.
"He's got some ability. I think it's important to remember that this is about baseball, first and foremost," Alderson said. "He's got as good a chance to make the big leagues as most of the players that we draft every year."
Brannon and his wife Lindsay have another reason to celebrate -- the birth of their daughter, Brooke, born just one week ago.
"She's gorgeous, healthy as can be, 10 fingers, 10 toes," Brannon said.
He's now headed to play baseball, but every time Brannon steps onto the pitcher's mound, he hopes his Marine brothers will see more than just a fastball.
"I hope they can look at this situation and say, 'Hey, look at that guy, he got wounded, he got hurt … and he pushed forward and he came out of it strong,'" Brannon said. "'If he can do it, why can't I?'"
His time with the Marines isn't up, but the Corps is letting him out him early to go to spring training -- it seems the Marines are baseball fans too.