February 3, 2023

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Highways and byways: Brantly's mad dash to Bronx

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This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Rob Brantly eyed the breakfast spread in the visiting clubhouse at Polar Park in Worcester, Mass., on Saturday, deciding to pass on the eggs and bacon. The catcher figured that there would be time to eat after the game, having no clue that this would be the wildest travel day of his career.

Brantly’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders were in the third inning of their game against the Red Sox’s top Minor League affiliate when an urgent message came from manager Doug Davis: “Hey, you need to hurry up and get out of here. They need you in New York right away.”

Brantly and right-hander David McKay hurriedly packed their bags while the RailRiders scrambled to find a car service willing to make the 167-mile trek to Yankee Stadium. Brantly happened to bring his family on the trip, so he volunteered to drive, piloting their Jeep Grand Cherokee through New England.

“It was packed up with all our family stuff, but we could squeeze our baseball stuff in there and go for it,” Brantly said. “I called my wife [Milene] and said, ‘We’ve got to get down to the parking lot right away.’ We jammed everything in the car; it was packed to the brim. So we take off, and I’m watching the ETA on the GPS start ticking up. And I’m like, ‘We’re not going to get there on time.’”

What should have been a three-hour drive was taking much longer; from the passenger seat, McKay was tracking the Yankees’ game on his cell phone, New York and the White Sox already playing the first game of their 3:05 p.m. doubleheader. Brantly’s children, Layla (5) and Bryson (3), sat behind them in car seats, with Milene wedged in the middle.

“I’d take a peek back and I was measuring the amount of water in her eyes, knowing that we needed to stop to use a bathroom,” Brantly said. “God bless her; she just wanted us to get there. Bryson started saying, ‘My tummy hurts;’ he’d only had Dippin’ Dots at the stadium for the day game. So we stopped, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know, man. I don’t know if we’re going to make it.’”

Eventually, Connecticut’s scenic byways gave way to New York highways, and Yankee Stadium came into view. Brantly floored the gas and steered into the players’ garage; Brantly and McKay ran to the clubhouse, while Mark Kafalas of Yankees security hustled Milene and the kids to find some food and freshen up.

“I’ve still got my street clothes on, and they tell me: ‘We’re in the eighth. You might need to come in and catch if we pinch-run for [Jose Trevino],” Brantly said. “Like Iron Man, I had to suit up and get out to the dugout for the game. The game ends, and then it’s, ‘Bam, you’ve got 30 minutes.’”

A half-hour to prepare for the second game of the doubleheader, scanning the White Sox lineup and getting set to catch Luis Severino — who pitched seven scoreless innings that night, striking out five. Brantly even delivered at the plate, breaking up Michael Kopech’s perfect game with a sixth-inning double.

“Sevy brought his stuff, which was awesome for me,” Brantly said. “He was fired up; he made my job super easy back there. Kopech was my roommate in 2017 in Triple-A; he gave me a nod, like, ‘Come on, Rob!’ It was a good game that we wanted to win, but that was a whirlwind of a day that my family will never forget.”

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