Watching Alex Bregman slug a home run for Houston in the opening game of the World Series or seeing him grab a scorched line drive to deny a hit in extra innings, it all looks familiar to former Quad-Cities River Bandits manager Josh Bonifay.
"That’s Bregman, doing things that people have told him all his life that he couldn’t do," Bonifay said. "Two years ago he’s playing ball in the Quad-Cities. This week, he’s doing big things for the Astros in the World Series."
Bregman is one of nine former River Bandits on World Series rosters this year.
Eight are playing for the parent club of the Midwest League team, Houston, in its ongoing series with Los Angeles.
Many sampled their first professional success while playing for Quad-Cities at Modern Woodmen Park.
Three — shortstop Carlos Correa and pitchers Lance McCullers and Chris Devenski — played for the River Bandits’ 2013 Midwest League championship team.
Three more — third baseman Bregman, outfielder Derek Fisher and pitcher Joe Musgrove — were lineup regulars during a 2015 season that saw Quad-Cities post a league-best 88-50 record.
The other three — Dodgers reliever Josh Fields in 2013, Astros outfielder George Springer in 2014 and catcher Evan Gattis last month during the start of the River Bandits’ playoff run — played at Modern Woodmen Park while on rehab assignments from Houston but are still regarded by Minor League Baseball as alumni of the Quad-Cities club.
Most have already factored into the results of a best-of-seven series tied at 1-1, which shifts to Houston tonight, where McCullers is scheduled to start on the mound for the Astros.
Bregman, Correa and Springer have homered for Houston in the first two games of the series.
Musgrove and Fields have seen work out of the bullpen as has Devenski, who earned the first World Series victory in the history of the Astros franchise in Wednesday’s 7-6, 11-inning win at Dodger Stadium.
Bonifay, who spent this past season working at the major-league level as the field coordinator for the Texas Rangers, is watching it all unfold from his offseason home in North Carolina.
"I’m so happy for those guys and for everything they have gone on to accomplish," Bonifay said. "The guys who were in Quad-Cities with us two years ago, they’re playing so well, and it’s exciting to see the progress they’ve made."
Some, such as Correa and McCullers, spent an entire season in the Midwest League at a time when Houston was working to rebuild its organization through young draft talent.
Bregman made his pro debut with the River Bandits after being selected in the opening round of the 2015 draft out of LSU, arriving after Fisher and Musgrove received the first full-season assignments of their professional careers with Quad-Cities.
Bonifay said during his time working with Bregman, he quickly discovered that he welcomed any challenge.
"Nobody will out-work him. That’s just how he’s built. When people told him he’d never be a home-run hitter, that he was too small, well, he hit two in the American League Championship Series, and he already has one in the World Series," Bonifay said.
"That’s who Bregman is, and Fisher, it took him a little longer to get to the majors, but he’s a gifted athlete who has always had power but has become a more disciplined hitter. It’s exciting to see those guys work their way into this opportunity."
As much as anything, Bonifay appreciates the journey.
"People don’t understand the pressure these guys feel as they work their way up. It comes from family, fans, friends, from the organizations they play for, and some of it is the pressure they put on themselves," Bonifay said.
"It’s not an easy road, the travel, the day-to-day work that they all put into their games. I pull for all the guys I've been able to work with, and when they get a chance to be a part of something like the World Series, it’s such a special thing. I couldn't be more proud of them."