Cooper Brannan is a decorated Marine with two tours of duty in Iraq behind him. Now he can say he's a professional baseball player with a potential of playing in the Major Leagues in front of him. The Padres announced Tuesday that they have agreed to terms on a Minor League contract with Brannan, a 22-year-old right-hander who as a Marine corporal was wounded in Iraq but came back to the U.S. to find his dream of playing baseball was still very much alive.
"I never figured when I was in Iraq that I'd be given this opportunty again, coming back from there," Brannan said Tuesday morning. But there he was Tuesday, talking about having just received a contract from Grady Fuson, the Padres' vice president for scouting and player development, as the announcement was made at a press conference at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. Padres CEO Sandy Alderson, who served four years as a Marine infantry officer with a tour of duty in Vietnam, said Tuesday that while the Padres are active partners with the military, there should be no doubt the aim of this signing. "First of all, it's about baseball," Alderson said. "Cpl. Brannan would not be signing a contract today if he didn't have the kind of talent our scouting department and player development people feel had potential and ulimately the possiblity of playing the Major Leagues." Brannan sustained wounds to his left hand from a flashbang grenade during his second deployment and was sent to San Diego Navy Medical Center for treatment and rehabilitation. Said Brannan: "I looked at my hand injury and I said 'This is nothing. I've got nothing to worry about.' My injury was far less worse than most. I picked up and I started working out again and started striving to do better." Brannan, whose voice cracked with emotion when talking about his fellow wounded, first started playing again with the Marine Corps team and then met Alderson at a function celebrating the Marine Corps' birthday, and that meeting eventually led to Tuesday's event. Brannan has been in the Marine Corps for nearly four years and will officially sign a professional baseball contract once his discharge paperwork is finalized. Brannan was recommended to the Padres by scout Brendan Hause, who worked out the Houston native. "This is a great opportunity for both parties," Fuson said. "He's a young and athletic Marine with a solid build, a promising arm and a great breaking ball. The Padres love taking chances on athletic players, and we're excited to have Cooper in the organization." Brannan attended Highland High School in Gilbert, Ariz., where he was a three-year letterman in football and baseball. Enlisting in the Marines in July 2003, he graduated boot camp three months later as a platoon honor man. He completed the School of Infantry in December 2003, and after training at Twentynine Palms, Calif., and Echo, Colo., he was deployed in Iraq in February 2004 as an infantry team leader. Returning to 29 Palms in October 2004, he was redeployed to Fallujah, Iraq, in September 2005 as infantry squad leader. He injured his hand in November 2005, sustaining multiple injuries resulting in amputation of the left little finger. He was medically evacuated to Naval Medical Center San Diego, where three surgeries were performed, followed by rehab and occupational therapy. Married on Jan. 20, 2006, to Lindsay Marie Wagener, Brannan was a member of the All-Marine baseball team and USA Military All-Star team while assigned to Headquarters and Service Battalion at MCRD in San Diego. Brannan was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (twice), National Defense Service Medal and Certificate of Commendation (individual award). Joining Padres executives at the press conference were representatives of the Marine Corps, including Brigadier Gen. Angela Salinas; Col. Matt Redfern, Brannan's commanding officer; and troops who served with Brannan in Iraq. "He's a great Marine. But they don't want him for that," Redfern said at the press conference. "They want him because he's a great baseball player, and I know he'll do great things for them as well." The Padres have long had a strong relationship with the military in the area, holding special days for the troops. In 2003, broadcaster Jerry Coleman and relief ace Trevor Hoffman paid tribute to the servicemen and women who served in Iraq with the dedication of the 22nd Little Padres Park at Camp Pendleton. With Brannan in the fold, the Padres' relationship with the Marines has hit a new level. "I think he's representative of a lot of service members, Marines in particular, who have a lot of other tremendous qualities beyond their commitment to our country and their willingness to protect the freedoms we all enjoy," Alderson said.