The empire starts with YouTube, which is why Alex Bregman decided to walk the walk this offseason.
He moved out to Los Angeles and met with television and movie executives in between his workout schedule. He joined the recent train of mainstream celebrities, such as Will Smith, who have launched a YouTube channel. His videos range from house tours to tips for young baseball players to pranks that peel back the curtain on the life of a baseball star.
They are also one of the many reasons the Houston Astros infielder is not only one of Major League Baseball's best young players on the field but also one of its most important personalities off it.
Bregman is a nonstop idea machine when it comes to saving baseball. "I don't find that much wrong with baseball," he says. Well, not exactly. There are a few things the league could improve. Baseball should place cameras everywhere. In the bullpens. During batting practice. In the dugouts. "Stop saying no," Bregman says. "Start saying yes."
YouTube is about saying yes. It's just one element of Bregman's hilarity on social media. He also regularly posts on Instagram and Twitter. He welcomes social media beefs—namely his recent back-and-forth with Cleveland Indians starter Trevor Bauer.
When Bauer—who has tweeted about everything from perceived liberal media bias to climate change denial to his disapproval of the Chief Wahoo ban to the Obama birther conspiracy theory—accused Astros pitchers of using pine tar to get more grip on the baseball last May, Bregman responded: "Relax Tyler ... those World Series balls spin a little different."
Bregman's active online presence is an anomaly in a sport that has struggled to adapt to a hyperconnected world. Baseball hasn't developed crossover mainstream celebrities since Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. Bregman wants to change that; he dreams of being in movies and TV shows and becoming baseball's first YouTube star. Eventually, he wants to run his own production company, something he can do during and after his playing career.
He's baseball's off-field anarchist, hoping to flip the game's front-facing culture on its head from the inside out and bring in a new generation of young fans.
"I want to be the LeBron James of baseball," Bregman says.
People know the Bregmans in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Alex is from. His parents, Sam and Jackie, own a successful law firm and once had a minority stake in the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, the then-D-League franchise in town. Sam's name shows up regularly in the news media. He has served as chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico.
What the Bregmans did, and who the Bregmans were, helped shape Alex's earliest ideas about his purpose in this world. The family hung a photo of Jackie Robinson in the game room that served as a reminder. "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives." Sam often took on high-profile cases, defending accused murderers and victims of police brutality. On numerous occasions, he brought Alex along with him so his son could see him at work. "I'd take him to the courtroom every now and then when he was growing up, for a change from the batting cage so he wouldn't get to professional baseball doing that nonstop," Sam says. "I think he appreciates what it's about to stand up for other people and to do it right. I think he learned that from his mother, and I hope I had a little influence on that."
Alex liked to play chess and would frequently get angry whenever he lost to his parents. When he complained, Jackie looked her son in the eyes and said, "You are not beating me in chess until you can be on your own." Losing constantly wore Alex down. He invited the kid from across the street to play, and once a perfect stranger at the chess tables in Harvard Square whom Alex confidently challenged, despite only being five, his feet not touching the ground. "He lost fairly quickly, but he held his own for a little while," Jackie says, laughing at the memory. For the rest of the day, Sam remembers, Alex walked around fuming about the loss.
He demanded nothing but excellence from himself. From a young age, Alex played up a level—to make sure he played against the best players possible. At 12 years old, Alex declared to his parents that he wanted to be the greatest baseball player who ever lived. That year, the University of New Mexico baseball team invited him on the road to be the team's bat boy. Sam and Jackie allowed him to go as long as their son maintained his grades. Alex slept on the hotel room floors, sharing space with three players. When they spent their nights talking about college baseball, Alex would sit and listen, taking in anything he could. "I was a little cocky piece of shit as a kid who'd tell them I'm gonna be in the big leagues, and they're like, ‘Yeah, all right, kid,'" Bregman says. It gave him a taste of college baseball. He loved riding the busses. Within the first few games of being the team's bat boy, Alex began to pick up the signals of other teams.
"Hey, I got their signs," Alex said to the Lobos coaching staff.
The next pitch, Alex said, would be a fastball.
The next pitch was gonna be off-speed, he said.
Here comes the changeup, he said.
Alex explained his secrets, and the coaches observed. "You're right," they said. "You got ‘em." The Lobos ended up sweeping all the games they played that weekend in Arizona. "They never found out," Alex says today. "Who thinks the bat boy has the signs?" The stories circled the Albuquerque baseball scene before Alex started high school.
"I want to be the LeBron James of baseball."
New Mexico has never been a baseball hotbed, so Bregman took it upon himself to be memorable, on and off the field. He was always smaller, less athletic, not as strong as his competition at national showcases, such as Team USA's U18 team, so he talked to players and coaches about his background, and won them over with extraordinary effort on the field. It was either make himself known or risk being looked over.
Back home, Bregman attended private school at Albuquerque Academy. "I went to a really smart school where all the kids go to the Ivy Leagues," he says. Other students sometimes questioned his pursuit of athletics. "All the kids would be like, ‘Ah, he's the baseball player.' At most public schools or private school, they would be like, ‘Oh, he's a good athlete,' but at my school, it was like, ‘You're a good athlete, you need to get a degree and get a backup plan,'" Bregman says. But his classmates didn't get it. "My family and me were like, ‘There is no backup plan. This is what we're doing.'"
Everything Bregman did, he had Plan A in mind. He skipped prom to hit in the cage. He made his high school senior project a baseball instructional video. He really went to the batting cages on Christmas and Thanksgiving. He maintained a 3.3 overall GPA but sometimes slipped into academic probation. "Alex didn't really give three shits about school," says Jason Columbus, Bregman's high school—and now personal—hitting coach. "He was just like, ‘I want to be the best baseball player ever.'" Bregman's coaches gave him a key to the LSU batting cage because they were tired of fielding calls from him to get some work in at all times of the night. For Alex, there was nothing to do back home besides work out, hit and take ground balls. No distractions.
"He's got that Albuquerque swagger," says Ray Birmingham, the head coach at the University of New Mexico. "He knows he's gonna get it done. It's kind of like, you're not supposed to, but you're gonna figure out a way to get it done."
If Alex whined about striking out or a call not going his way, Sam would remind him of a simple phrase, which would go on to become a life motto and Twitter bio: TTFU.
Toughen the fuck up.
When the 2012 draft came along, Bregman told teams he would not sign unless he was chosen in the first round. The Red Sox drafted him in the 29th round, and off he went to college. Bregman turned into a star at LSU, where he batted .338/.412/.520 with 21 homers, 148 RBI and 56 doubles in 196 games. In 2015, Bregman was one of four finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, presented to the best amateur baseball player in the country.
"I grew up a lot by going to college," Bregman says. "I was still really immature. I still probably am. But I did grow up a ton, just being on my own. That kinda stuff."
Bregman is sitting in his trailer talking to the camera. With him are Columbus; his publicist, Meghan; and Alex Scoffield (the brother of Bregman's agent, Brodie Scoffield), when a representative from Adidas comes inside with an enormous box. A crew tasked with makeup and wardrobe hustle in and out of the trailer. Bregman's phone buzzes constantly with notifications from Twitter, Instagram and texts. He has over 800 unread text messages, but Alex and Co. keep talking.
They talk about his Jewish upbringing and his bar mitzvah. (The theme? "Get laid," he says with a laugh.) They talk about the baseball cards sitting at the foot of his bed, waiting to be signed for surprise autograph inserts. Players are recommended to have three signatures: The first should be for legal documents and to never be seen by the public. The second, for officially-licensed autographed items. The third, simple and quick: for the autograph hounds. Bregman's publicist reminds him to sign the box of cards with signature No. 2. They consider hypothetical endorsement deals. Someone brings up the Frank Thomas ad campaign for Nugenix.
"I wanna be like Shaquille O'Neal and just endorse everything," Bregman says. "We were thinking Trojan."
Suddenly, it's brought to Alex's attention that the box from the representative is a haul of new size 12 sneakers. He bounces up and down in excitement as he takes some of the shoes out of the box. Some Pharrell Human Races. Some Ultra Boosts. And then the rep pulls out the Yeezy 750 box, holding a pair of the brown suede high-top kicks from Kanye West's fashion line. When the Adidas endorsement deal came through, Alex went to the Adidas website and spent $30,000 on merchandise (the equivalent of roughly 200 sneakers)—half for himself, half for his parents and brother and sister, giving away his old Nike stuff to friends. He didn't want to wait until the deal was announced to start wearing the apparel.
Alex asks if he can wear 750s in the evening shoot, which features a bright-orange Viper sports car. He's informed that he can't because Kanye needs to approve all Adidas-publicized photos featuring Yeezy merchandise.
"I don't really fuck with him," Bregman says. "He's wearing MAGA hats."
Bregman doesn't hold himself back on social media—whether it's about baseball or politics. This offseason, Bauer challenged Bregman to come take a live at-bat off of him in the cage, tagging the Astro on Twitter. "$1000 bonus for every homer hit off me. Tag who you would like see me matchup against! You won't @abreg_1." Bregman responded, "I'll save them for the postseason next year." When Bauer responded by calling him soft, Bregman tweeted back the YouTube clip of him hitting a homer off the Indians righty in Game 2 of the 2018 ALDS with the caption "Soft AF." Bregman denied comment on his relationship with Bauer.
Bregman was also one of few baseball players willing to take a direct public political stance on President Donald Trump. When Trump questioned LeBron's intelligence in 2018, Alex quote-tweeted Trump. "LeBron is an amazing role model and has helped so many people. Embarrassing that our Pres. would tweet this… I'll go back to sticking to sports. Sorry everybody." And most recently, Bregman ripped Trump when the president said he doubted Hurricane Maria's death toll in Puerto Rico. "So disrespectful," he tweeted. "He makes all these obnoxious claims with no facts…"
"I'm just gonna say what I believe is right," Bregman says. "If people mind what I say, then obviously their opinions don't matter to me."
Winning a Twitter beef is one thing, but winning a World Series (again) is ultimately where Bregman's focus lies. When the Red Sox are brought up, he says, "Can't wait to knock them out in the ALDS." He wants to win the American League MVP. He wants to win a Gold Glove. He wants to win the World Series. He wants to win the World Series MVP. He wants to win the batting title. Long term? "I want to win the Triple Crown in the big leagues," Bregman says. "I want to win a bunch of World Series. I want to be in the Hall of Fame." He's accomplished nearly everything a player three years into their career can accomplish. It's not going to change now that he's living out his dreams.
Bregman verbalizes these goals publicly—not to rub people the wrong way, which he knows he does, but to hold himself accountable, publicly. This might explain his candor, too. Anything and everything will be used for motivation. At LSU he wore No. 30 for the number of teams that passed over him when he entered the MLB draft out of high school in 2012. He was selected in the 29th round by the Boston Red Sox, but the rest of the league's teams passed. He wears No. 2 with the Astros as a tribute to Derek Jeter and to remind himself that he was chosen second overall in the 2015 draft, behind Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson.
The outside chatter doesn't concern him. "As long as you're out there performing and playing to the best of your abilities, people can't say shit," Bregman says. "Everyone says like, ‘Oh you're so cocky, you talk shit.' Baseball players all talk shit. I talk shit about how good my team is. I don't talk shit about how good I am. My team should be playing on prime time. My team is fucking nasty."
Bregman's support for his team extends beyond the diamond. He empathizes, tries to understand cultural differences the best he can. He keeps it going off the field too, trying to understand the cultural melting pot that is the baseball clubhouse. Touring the world playing with Team USA, he took up learning Spanish. He ordered food in Spanish and worked his way through conversations; the more he did, the more he learned the clubhouse divides that permeate the sport, where the American guys stick together, and the Latin guys stick together. Spanish became a means of learning from the Latin players. Whenever he would make a mistake, someone like Carlos Correa or Marwin Gonzalez would help correct him.
"I want to be a leader, and in order to be a leader, you have to be able to communicate to everybody," Bregman says about a sport where a 2017 report said 31.9 percent of teammates hail from Latin American countries. "I feel like if I didn't learn Spanish well enough to communicate with these guys, I wouldn't be able to fully get in there and they wouldn't feel like I was fully invested. I care about my teammates and I care about their respect. I feel like if I'm gonna go learn how to speak Spanish, they will be able to communicate all day long. It won't be a stretch where it's Latin and then American. Carlos Beltran was such a big influence for us. He was able to speak English and speak Spanish, bring a full clubhouse together."
The work paid off on all fronts. Juan Centeno, a Puerto Rican catcher who played with the Astros in 2017, told ESPN's Marly Rivera: "I think [what Bregman is doing] is very important for the team's relationship, for communication on and off the field."
"I want to be a leader, and in order to be a leader, you have to be able to communicate to everybody."
—Alex Bregman on bridging cultural differences in the locker room
Brian McCann, Bregman's teammate from 2017-2018 who has a reputation for enforcing baseball's unwritten rules, calls Bregman one of his favorite teammates ever. When Bregman began organizing team celebrations, the veteran—people still remember McCann jawing at Carlos Gomez in 2013 after the then-Milwaukee Brewers outfielder showboated during a home run trot—bought in. As did the entire team. "The thing is that someone else could do the same thing, but they couldn't pull it off," McCann says. "It comes natural to [Bregman]. He's being himself. It's the guys that it doesn't come natural and it's like, 'Oh OK. I can see right through that.' The spotlight makes him better."
Success on YouTube often demands consistency, and if there is one thing about Alex Bregman, it's just that: He is a beacon of consistency. An audience must know why it should show up again and again. They need to know when new videos drop.
This is why Bregman is working on getting his social media manager access to the clubhouse during the season, to produce behind-the-scenes content. It's also why Alex Scoffield follows Bregman everywhere—to every workout, to every city—and plans to move into Bregman's home when the season begins. Every day, Scoffield carries around his camera, shooting and editing all the footage. He carries several spare batteries in his backpack at all times. He pieces through hours of footage on any given day. "I think Sco is the YouTuber. And it's just, we're YouTubing my life," Bregman says. "That's how I think about it. It's been fun. It's really not much work for me. Sco sets everything up, and does everything so I just fucking live my life."
Together, they brainstorm ideas for YouTube and Instagram. Sometimes Scoffield comes up with an idea, sometimes Bregman. Bregman's channel features everything from advice videos for young baseball players to Q&As with fans to collaborations with YouTube video game stars to documenting his recovery process. The goal is to post a video every single day, for now, to build an audience.
Bregman is doing everything he can to boost his profile at a time when the league faces major identity issues. Players aren't seeing the same type of branding success as their NBA counterparts, for instance, and now they're not getting paid like them, either. Scoffield, whose background is in selling products online on Amazon and Kickstarter, views the process of building Bregman's public persona as similar to selling an online product. This offseason, the pair started their own production business together called Nonstop Media.
This offseason, while much of the baseball world was awaiting the free-agency decisions of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, Bregman and teammate Justin Verlander were busy devising a plan to turn player entrances into the locker room into a fashion runway, similar to the NBA. Players should have an opportunity to show off their outfits on social media, Bregman insists, and connect with any potential fans as a result. He describes his fashion sense as "not quite Russell Westbrook." Others, however, are a bit more daring: "There are some players that are fucking wearing fashion week into the locker room," Bregman says. On Thursday, Sports Illustrated named Bregman the 12th best player in baseball, ahead of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.
Alex hopes his efforts will help ignite a subculture around the game. More players running YouTube channels. More players wearing their best fits to the field. More players wearing flashy sneakers during batting practice. "We kind of say, give this five or 10 years, hopefully it's the culture, not the subculture," Scoffield says. "The sport starts dying if it doesn't. Alex understands the stakes of that. It's his personal brand. It's the sport he loves so much. It's given him everything. People do love the sport in America, but they're not seeing it the right way and in the right places. Baseball is run by old white guys, besides the young players."
When asked what he would do as commissioner of baseball, Bregman first jokes that he would ban pitch clocks so he would stop getting fined. "I would not change the game," he says. "I wouldn't change the game on the time stuff. I'm not making a rule if it changes the integrity of the game. But a pitcher having to face three hitters? That's stupid. That's not baseball. Now you're making it a different game. It takes away from the chess match."
Well, he would change one thing. "Let everybody show their personalities. I'd open the floodgates and just let everything flow," Bregman says. "If you just opened the floodgates and stopped saying no and just said yes, everyone would be more marketable if they were allowed to be themselves."