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03/04/09 6:21 PM ET

Intensity emerges as Bradley returns

Cubs outfielder wishes for fair treatment regarding character

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Milton Bradley knew that when he came out of his first game after one at-bat, people would say, here we go again. The Cubs outfielder, who notched his first spring hit on Wednesday in his first game back, can handle questions about his health.

It's when someone questions his character that is annoying, especially someone who doesn't know him.

"I understand I haven't been very healthy," Bradley said. "I'm not happy about it, but I work as hard as I possibly can. ... You look at me, and I look like I'm in shape. I'd be dangerous if I actually got healthy."

Wednesday was his first game since Feb. 26, when he drew a walk in his only at-bat and was lifted for a pinch-runner because of tightness in his left thigh. In his first at-bat in the first against the Cleveland Indians, Bradley hit a weak popup to second base off the first pitch. He grounded out to shortstop to lead off the third and doubled to right in the fifth.

Seeing some of his former teammates on the Indians helped Bradley "get that feel again," he said. He's not sure of his schedule now. The Cubs haven't discussed playing time for the month of Cactus League games that remain.

"I just have to pace myself more," he said. "I've always been a guy who they're looking at -- 'Is he hustling? Is he hustling?' So, I started running like my [butt] is on fire all the time. Now I have to take it a little easy."

When Lou Piniella was hired as the Cubs' manager, his past pyrotechnics were replayed over and over. Piniella couldn't understand why his base-kicking antics were revived. Bradley understands. He recently told a Chicago columnist the media is "crazy."

"What I meant by that," Bradley said Wednesday, "is the way they make out things I've done in the past. I didn't do anything malicious or violent or whatever. If anything it was more childish and immature, my actions. Yelling at somebody, I wouldn't call that violent, unless it gets physical, and that's never happened.

"I'm not violent or volatile or all this stuff that I hear. I'm intense. I've got a lot of pride and a lot of integrity, and I expect more out of myself probably than other people do. Call it as you see it.

"[The media] has a tendency to use a lot of the same words to describe me over the years. They vary as time goes on."

He's not sullen. He's not melancholy, a word Bradley said makes him think of storm clouds.

"Bottom line is, I'm as serious as a heart attack about baseball and winning. My last goal in life, my bucket list, is winning a World Series, and that's it."
-- Milton Bradley

"That's not me," he said. "The thing people might not know about me is that I'm extremely shy. For me to start talking to people I don't know at all, it's uncomfortable. Usually, I'm pretty quiet in the beginning until I feel people out. Then my personality starts to come out.

"Bottom line is, I'm as serious as a heart attack about baseball and winning. My last goal in life, my bucket list, is winning a World Series, and that's it. I don't care about personal accolades, fame. I don't need any of that. Money is great because my family is taken care of, but the only thing that's going to make me happy is winning."

Bradley hasn't talked to Piniella about how he's been labeled as a base-throwing, hot-tempered manager.

"What he does, it's not planned," Bradley said. "There's a reason for it. He's trying to prove a point. He wants his players to go out there and play with the same intensity and fire that he's showing when he's tossing the base or getting in the umpire's face. He means business. I understand that. I can respect that.

"I think they're crazy when someone struggles and makes errors and strikes out and gives up runs and they just go get their supper and kick back like nothing happened," he said. "I can't live like that."

His former manager, Texas' Ron Washington, called Bradley a perfectionist.

"That's exactly what I am," Bradley said. "I want to do everything right. I don't need the fans to yell at me or boo me to tell me I'm doing bad. I'm going to know. I'll be feeling as bad as anybody."

That edge, that intensity is one of the reasons the Cubs wanted him.

"I'm intense," he said. "There's a time and place for it. You won't see me firing helmets and we're up 10-2 and I go 0-for-4. If we're down 10-2 and I go 0-for-4, then you'll see me doing that."

Of course, he's going to try to do it away from the television cameras to avoid adding to the video clips that have been shown about his past antics. Intensity is defined differently for different players. Bradley has heard comparisons between himself and Paul O'Neill.

"With Paul O'Neill, he's hustling, intense, fiery, he's a competitor," Bradley said. "Early on in my career, I was [described as] volatile, angry, temperamental, had an attitude. That's the antithesis of what I am.

"Yes, I've made mistakes. Yes, I haven't handled things properly in the past. I was immature, I was childish. That's how I reacted. My self-defense mechanism was to lash out. Maybe it's my own insecurity."

Bradley says he can handle situations better now. Bottom line, he just wants to play and be judged like everyone else.

"It's vital for me to be on the field -- more than even being productive," he said. "If I'm out there, I know that's going to happen anyway. I just have to be out there, and I will."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.