BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - Buena Blue Dawgs right-hander Denny Brady knelt behind the pitcher's mound at Bruno Melini Park - we don't talk about Bruno - before Monday's playoff game against Ocean City and scribbled "Pop-Pop" in the dirt with his index finger.

"I've been doing that before every game since high school," the 2015 Buena Regional High School graduate said. "It's my way of remembering my grandfather (Frank Brady). He passed away when I was 13."

The 25-year-old had been expecting to be writing that homage this summer on the mound at Toyota Field in Madison, Alabama, home to the Rocket City Trash Pandas of the Double-A Southern League.

A seventh-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Angels in 2017, Brady played for the Trash Pandas last season and thought he'd be returning in 2022. The Angels released him during Spring Training on March 21.

"After I was let go, I began to think that maybe my life was going to take a different path," Brady said. "I would gladly go back to pro ball, but only with an affiliated team. I have no interest in playing for an independent team. If I did that and spent two years playing in the middle of nowhere, I'd be right back where I am now. Right now, I'm happy to be playing here and having fun."

The Blue Dawgs are members of the South Jersey/South Shore Baseball League, a 10-team conference with rosters that include players ranging from teenagers hoping to develop their talent to 30-somethings just playing for the love of the game.

Blue Dawgs centerfielder Alexi Colon is in the latter category.

The 32-year-old is in his second season with the Blue Dawgs after spending parts of nine years playing professionally on various levels. The 2008 St. Augustine Prep graduate was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2012. He also played independent baseball for the Schaumburg Boomers and River City Rascals in the Frontier League, the Lincoln Salt Dogs of the American Association, and the Sussex County Miners and Aigles de Trois-Rivieres of the Can-Am League before retiring a few years ago.

"I played all over the place," Colon said. "Canada, St. Louis, Chicago. I still love baseball and this gives me a chance to be with my family and still play the game I love."

Brady is widely considered the best player in the SSBL.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder gave up a home run to start Monday's game, but was dominant during the rest of his three-inning outing. He has allowed just two runs 18 innings this season with 31 strikeouts against three walks and a 0.68 earned run average.

He's been even more impressive as a hitter. He went 3-for-3 against Ocean City to raise his season batting average to .514 (18-for-35) with two home runs and 18 RBI.
Pretty impressive considering he hadn't swung a bat since high school.

"I love to hit," Brady said with a smile. "I've had a lot of success as a pitcher, but hitting has always had a special place in my heart."
Colon is also among the league's best players.

He wasted no time in displaying his power on Monday. As thick, dark clouds began to roll in, Colon smacked a grand slam that sailed over the right-field fence. He finished the game 2-for-2 to raise his season average to .478.

As he rounded the bases, he waved to his three children - daughters Haleigh (13) and Saveannah (12), and son A.J. (5) - and wife Ann.

Colon is in his second year as a corrections officer at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton. In his spare time, he can be found on a baseball field, whether it's playing for the Blue Dawgs or with Millville in the South Jersey MSBL, an 18-and-over league.

One of his teammates in MSBL is his father, 56-year-old catcher Willie Colon.

"Getting to play with my father is really special," Alexi said. "I got my love of baseball from him and now it's my turn to pass it along to my son."
Earlier this summer, Colon had an offer to rejoin the Frontier League.

He turned it down.

"My wife and family wanted me to give it another shot and pursue the dream," he said. "I thought about it, but it's time for me to keep my feet on the ground."

For Brady and Colon, it doesn't matter if that ground is in Buena Vista Township, Alabama or Canada, as long as it's on a baseball field.

If Brady can write "Pop-Pop" on the pitcher's mound; if Colon can step into a batter's box, they're happy.

-30-