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Local teacher builds major league friendship
By: Shelton Dodson
LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- Tim Bravo is a 52-year-old father of six and grandfather of six more. He's a wrestling coach, a special education teacher and an employee of Las Cruces High School for the past 24 years. He's a native of southern California, a collegiate baseball player and a huge fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. And for the past half dozen summers, Bravo was living his dream.
"I did something that 99.9999 percent of the world will never be able to do," said Bravo. "And I loved it."
Bravo played college baseball with Logan White at Western New Mexico University. White is now the Dodgers' assistant vice president of amateur scouting. He hired Bravo six years ago to work with the team's young, Latin players. Bravo taught them, not only how to speak English, but also how to do everything from use an ATM to order a meal. Last summer, Bravo met the Dodgers' best prospect, Cuban defector Yasie Puig, and there was an immediate bond.
"He calls me teacher," said Bravo of Puig.
"He can run. He can hit. He can throw. He can do everything," said Bravo. When asked to describe the 22-year-old Puig in one word, Bravo chose, "Incredible!"
The Dodgers were dead-last in the National League West when the team called-up Puig on June 3. He immediately took the league by storm, playing with an unmatched reckless abandon. Puig's first 50 games in the Major League were so extraordinary that baseball historians say it may have only been matched by New York Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio. The only knock on Puig, is that he may play the game too hard.
"That's just the way he is," said Bravo. "He eats hard, he drives fast. He does everything full speed."
With Puig's tremendous start, he quickly became a media darling. The spotlight was shining brighter than anyone expected. Bravo remained by Puig's side through it all. Trying to make sure the young player kept focused on, and off, the field. From the day they met in 2012, the relationship was so strong that Bravo thought about leaving Las Cruces High and joining the Dodgers full-time. Last summer, he came home to talk to his wife about it and that's when his life turned upside down. That's when he found out his 8-year-old son, Zechariah, had cancer.
"You never want anybody to go through that. Having the doctor tell you, your son has cancer. It's just hard," said Bravo while choking back tears.
Taking care of Zechariah became the priority. The Dodgers were still there, but no longer nearly as important. When Puig learned what Tim and his family were going through, the young player made a mature offer.
"Yasiel says, 'Teacher, I will do anything. I will pay for everything. Whatever you need.' He even wanted to move me to Miami. He said, 'Wehave the best doctors in Miami, come over here.' Or, he said, 'Bring him to California, I will take care of him.'"
While Bravo appreciated the offer, he and his family decided to get Zechariah treatment in New Mexico. After a year and a lot of worry, Tim's youngest child is cancer-free. Some day he plans to tell his son what Puig offered to do for him
"One of these days I will be able to tell him, (Puig) offered to take care of you during our time of need. He offered to fly you to hospitals, he offered to buy you medicine. He offered to do a lot of things for (you)," Bravo said.
It was a lesson in life, and compassion, from the student for his teacher.