I’ve been behind the desk in college classrooms, either as a prof, adjunct, or TA for something close to a quarter-century. I don’t remember every student I’ve ever had, but I remember more of them than I would have expected. From time to time, I find myself wondering about whatever happened to one or another of them, even though I haven’t encountered them in years.
One such kid was in my FroshComp class at the U of KY, as I was doing my M.A. Matt Bragga would have been my student later in that time, during the 1990-91 school year. I don’t remember his actual performance in my course, but he stuck in my memory because he was a good kid (at 18 or so, as opposed to my Methuselan 24 or 25), and because he was on the baseball team. He took my class, and did however he did, and in the remaining year or two I was there, we’d see each other and say hello.
Flash forward to 1995. I was back in Northern KY, working as a magazine editor in a veal-fattening pen in downtown Cincinnati. That Spring is memorable for (among other things), the Major League Baseball strike that led most teams to populate their rosters with non-union replacements. Although the strike collapsed before an abbreviated season of 144 games, that season’s Spring Training gave the replacements their chances to perform.
I was half-listening to a preseason Reds game one afternoon when I heard a familiar name. A little quick searching on the fledgling internet and some searches of the Cincinnati Enquirer revealed that my former student was one of the best players on the ersatz Reds roster. Although I had been a Reds fan since I had moved to Kentucky, I now had even more of a rooting interest. I followed Matt’s performance, and cheered when it looked as though he had earned a spot on the roster.
But the strike ended, and when the regulars came back (with an assist from Sonia Sotomayor), the replacement Reds were denied their opportunities to get into the MLB record books. Bragga was consigned to the low minors, and his playing days ended shortly thereafter.
I lost track of him after that, but would occasionally smile over the years as I remembered my former student who was thisclose to the Big Show. As the years passed, I forgot his name, but I remembered the kid, if you know what I mean.
And then, for no reason I can name, I thought of “that kid.” The internet is better now, and a search for replacement Reds yielded Matt’s name. He’s now the head baseball coach at Rice University after a successful 15-year tenure at Tennessee Tech, and with luck, maybe he’ll be able to lead his team next spring.
Whether he knows it or not, he now has a fan in Mondoville.