War veteran joined by President Bush for first pitch

Air Force Staff Sergeant Bradley honored prior to Rangers' home opener

War veteran joined by President Bush for first pitch

ARLINGTON -- Accompanied by former President George W. Bush, Air Force Staff Sergeant Nicholas Bradley threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Rangers home opener against the Astros on Friday afternoon.

Bradley was part of the opening ceremonies that also included a "Texas Toss" from Gov. Greg Abbott to former Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Bradley, who served three tours in the Middle East, threw the pitch to Rangers assistant hitting coach Bobby Jones, who is a Vietnam veteran and Bronze Medal winner.

Bradley enlisted in the Air Force in June 2001, serving two deployments in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. It was during his tour in Afghanistan while serving on a personal security detail for five General Officers that he was severely wounded.

"We were on a convoy outside the wire," Bradley said. "Two Taliban guys were anticipating us coming down the road. They remotely detonated a 20-pound tank mine right under the gear shift of the Toyota Land cruiser I was driving.

"Crushed every bone in my face, every bone in my right arm, my right hand, hip, knee, shin were crushed, broken or fractured."

Bradley ended up in Walter Reed Hospital. The doctors told him that he would be there for at least a year before he would be able to walk. He was out in two months. He had 16 surgeries with screws inserted all over the right side of his body, and his right foot is partially paralyzed. His face was completely reconstructed with six screws inserted.

"I literally have a screw loose," Bradley said.

Bradley was awarded the Purple Heart and was medically retired in 2009. He now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and he is attending the University of North Texas in pursuit of a political science degree. He continues to undergo occupational and physical therapy.

Bush has been on the mound for ceremonial first pitches before. His most memorable one was Game 3 of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and the D-backs during his presidency. It was the first World Series game in New York after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I was nervous one time during my presidency, and that was on the mound at Yankee Stadium," Bush said. "The ball felt like a shot put to me. And Todd Greene, who was the catcher, looked really small. All my senses were pulsating when I went out there. It was one of the most dramatic moments of the presidency. So today, the pressure was on Nick. Not on me."

"It's a dream come true for me," Bradley said. "I wasn't that nervous. I think the president took all that off me when he walked out there with me. It was an honor, because I served under President Bush my entire eight years. I didn't feel too much pressure other than aim high -- don't bounce it."

Bush gave Bradley high marks for his toss.

"I don't care what you saw," Bush said. "It was a strike."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.