It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Peoria, Illinois hardly resembles Southern California. A pleasant summer day in the River City may seem like everyday life to those on the West Coast — not to mention that the Illinois River affords no possibility of surfing.
However, the Bradley Braves baseball team has a pair of intrepid men that have withstood the colossal change between the two locations.
Jed Moscot, a redshirt senior relief pitcher, hails from Pacific Palisades, California, about 25 miles straight west of downtown Los Angeles. His path to Bradley, however, has not been quite as straight.
After graduating from Palisades Charter High School, Moscot enrolled as a freshman at the University of California-Davis. An injury caused him to redshirt his one year with the Aggies. Moscot’s decision to transfer was not medically related, but was more so as a result of poor team culture and irregular atmosphere.
“Anytime that you’re not looking forward to going out to the field is a spot that you probably shouldn’t be in,” Moscot said.
In 2017, Moscot latched on at Cuesta Community College in San Luis Obispo, California, where his brother and former Cincinnati Red, Jon, played. After a more pleasant year playing at Cuesta, Moscot packed his bags to play in a Kansas collegiate summer league, his first time spending an extended period away from home.
“For me, coming out of high school, I was really home-oriented,” the now-graduated senior said. “I really missed home when I was a freshman.”
Following his second year at Cuesta in the summer of 2018, Moscot took an opportunity to play in another collegiate summer league; this time about some 3,000 miles north in Anchorage, Alaska.
Moscot found the opportunity through his older brother Jon, who played summer ball with the Wisconsin Woodchucks of the Northwoods League. Jon Moscot reached out to his former Woodchucks coach, who was coaching in the Alaska Baseball League, to inquire about a roster spot for Jed. After an affirmative answer, the younger Moscot became a member of the Anchorage Glacier Pilots where he met current Braves, Ryan Hodgett and Eli Rawlinson, along with former Bradley pitcher Cole Cook.
Around the same time, Bradley first baseman Conor O’Brien had just wrapped up his high school career at Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego, a self-proclaimed “baseball factory.” O’Brien planned on taking the junior college route, but his recruiting coordinator sent highlight tapes to four-year college coaches across the country.
O’Brien received many offers, but the decision came down to Purdue and Bradley. He did not have a preference between staying close to home or playing for a school far away, but as August approached, O’Brien was still uncommitted. Opportunities were still aplenty, however.
“Even the schools I had full rides to, I turned down because I wanted to have a good degree with it too,” O’Brien said. “I wanted a good balance between baseball and school.”
Moscot had not committed as of late July in 2018 as well. In fact, he was ready to drop baseball altogether and become a full-time student. Like O’Brien, Moscot put academics at a premium and was prepared to enroll at UCLA or UC Santa Barbra as a non-athlete.
That all changed when his teammate on the Glacier Pilots and former Brave, Cole Cook, noticed that Moscot was too good of a pitcher to not play in college. The only problem was explaining a school and an entire conference to Moscot that he had never heard of before.
“Cole came up to me and was like ‘Hey, do you have a place to play next year?’ And I said ‘Nope! I’m looking for a place to play though,’” Moscot said. “The decision was then ‘Do I want to go to UCLA and just go to school or do I want to go to a school that I’ve never heard of and find out and just take the word of these guys?’”
Cook, Hodgett and Rawlinson reached out to the Bradley brass about Moscot because they needed pitchers, preferably with junior college experience.
“I wanted an experienced guy so we were going to go junior college, regardless,” Bradley head coach Elvis Dominguez said. And the reason for that is you don’t want to graduate 10 or 11 guys every four years so we have to have a mix.”
Bradley was also in need of a key hitter in the middle of the lineup after Luke Mangieri was drafted and signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. O’Brien fit the role perfectly.
“We knew he could swing the bat and we had a situation where we had just lost Luke Mangieri,” Dominguez said. “It left a void late because [of] the draft in June. His bat is similar to [Dan] Bolt’s, it’s too much of a plus tool to avoid and he has really, really made himself a solid defensive first baseman.”
O’Brien and Moscot committed to Bradley in early August of 2018, not even two weeks before classes started. They have noticeably performed ever since.
As the starting first baseman, O’Brien is currently hitting .416 with four home runs and holds a five-game hitting streak. His walk-off home run against SIU on April 17 sent the Bradley faithful into a frenzy and keyed the Braves to a series win against a strong Southern Illinois team.
Moscot had a seven-inning outing against Evansville on April 9 where he allowed just one earned run. The redshirt senior also began the year hot, with 14 straight innings without allowing an earned run.
While both have undoubtedly become accustomed to performing well, Moscot and O’Brien differ on acclimating to Peoria.
‘Everything’s older, which I actually liked. I was a history major so I actually enjoyed that. It really hasn’t been that difficult of a switch, maybe it’s just because I was in Alaska right before. Alaska is a culture shock,” Moscot said, laughing. “[My dad] lived in Iran, Israel and Russia. He’s from New York and then moved to California, so I guess it just kind of runs in the blood a little bit.”
Traveling to Kansas and Alaska – as well as a trip to Europe – after graduating high school assisted in broadening Moscot’s horizons. The opportunity to see another part of the country was nearly irresistible for him.
“It was an easy decision for me, I’ve made difficult decisions in the past just living in other places and I said ‘I’m definitely going to do this. I’ll take a chance,’” Moscot said.
O’Brien, however, misses doing year-round outdoor opportunities such as surfing or walking on the beach.
“Here when it’s winter, I’m not the biggest fan of snow,” the sophomore first baseman said.
Dominguez and the Bradley coaches have plans to recruit more players from across the country. While the choices made in recruiting are more about filling needs than targeting multiple players from a specific area, Bradley’s California tandem has provided the Braves with some West Coast flair.
In return, playing collegiately thousands of miles from home provides perks to the two players as well, such as meeting entirely new groups of people in O’Brien’s case and continuing to spend time in all corners of the U.S. for Moscot. Although Moscot isn’t as keen about surfing as his teammate, they have both ridden the wave of collegiate baseball and landed in Peoria. Not such a common sight to see next to the Illinois River, is it?