Sid Bream is living proof a fellow can go far on natural talent, a small town upbringing, a deep abiding faith and the promise of free ice cream with every home run.
Thirty years ago, the Mt. Holly Springs native started his career as a major league baseball player with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
His best season numerically was with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986 when he recorded 73 runs, 37 doubles, 16 homers and 77 runs batted in.
A famous slide into home plate in 1992 earned Bream a spot in baseball lore and enabled the Atlanta Braves to win the National League Championship Series that year over his former team, the Pirates.
When he retired in 1994 from the Houston Astros, Bream had four NLCS titles and two World Series appearances under his belt.
For all his success, Bream never forgot where he came from and continues to draw strength and inspiration from those who shaped his early years on the diamond.
“I remember him swinging the bat when he was 2 years old,” said his mother, Jouetta Bream, who still lives in Mt. Holly Springs. The third child in a family of six, Sid Bream was a natural at the game and put his heart and soul into learning it.
“All he thought about was playing baseball,” she added, recalling a memory from when Sid Bream was 12 and was grounded for his enthusiasm.
“He missed his aunt’s wedding so he could play baseball,” his mother said. “He went to a friend’s house and stayed there. We did not know where he was. The next week, he did not play baseball at all.”
Every summer, neighborhood boys gathered at the Bream house before heading over to the ball field lugging their bats, gloves and jugs of water. They would spend the whole day playing baseball, Jouetta Bream said.
Little League Coach Cy Russell was among those who had an early influence on Sid Bream. “He was good in every position he played.”
Bream was so good at pitching that some parents worried he might hurt younger players, so they lobbied the Little League board to advance him to an older age bracket.
As assistant coach of the Arnolds Food Market team, Sylvester Bream helped his son Sid Bream learn better ball control from the mound.
“I had one of the greatest upbringings a young man could ever have,” Sid Bream said. “My dad and my uncle playing sandlot baseball formed a lot of great memories in my mind. I loved watching them play the game.”
Growing up, Bream was surrounded by a family of athletes who played baseball, basketball and football when each was in season. Talented brothers and cousins set the bar for Bream who took on the challenge to become a better athlete.
“Early on, it was a natural thing,” Bream recalled. “It did not compute to me that people really understood that I was a good ballplayer. I was out there enjoying the sport and having fun.”
One time, Russell had to ante up on his promise of a half gallon of ice cream to any player who hit a homerun.
“I hit 24 in just a small amount of games,” Bream said. “Coach just handed me a check.” The family used the money to stock up the freezer.
Baseball fundamentals learned in Mt. Holly were further refined at Carlisle High School thanks to junior varsity coach John Cantalupi and varsity coach Harry Mundorf, Sid Bream said. “They taught me to play the game more effectively.”
Others were on the sidelines pitching in to make Bream a great ballplayer. His uncle Leroy Bream wrote a letter to Liberty Baptist College in Lynchburg, Va., urging officials there to consider Bream for the college team. It was in high school that he first realized making a play for the major leagues was within his reach, but first, he had to work his way through the minor league.
Bream was drafted into the Dodger organization after his junior year at what is now Liberty University. In his first professional season, he started with the Dodgers Class A team at Vero Beach in the Florida State League before advancing to the AA affiliate in the Texas League at San Antonio. He was with the AAA Pacific Coast League team at Albuquerque when he was called up to the majors on Sept. 1, 1983.
The 1992 slide and winning run that propelled Atlanta to the World Series is Bream’s career highlight — the one play that has stood the test of time.
“Without it, my name would have gone into obscurity,” Bream said. “Because of it, my name has stayed around. It has been a blessing. I thank God for it every day.”
It was in the seventh and decisive game of the NLCS between the Braves and the Pirates. The Pirates were ahead 2-0 entering the Atlanta ninth when Bream drew a walk from Stan Belinda on four straight balls.
Four batters later, an unheard of pitch hitter named Francisco Cabrera lined a single through the left side of the infield. Bream, who was on second base, hustled to third base and then pushed on to home where he inched his way in to beat the relay throw to the plate and slid safely beneath the tag of the Pirates catcher.
A devout Christian, Bream credits success in baseball to his Lord Jesus Christ.
“My faith is what my life is all about,” Bream said. “He is the one who has given me my talent. He paid the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. Glorify God with your body ... that is what I try to do.”
Today, Bream is a family man living in Zelienople, Butler County, about 28 miles north of Pittsburgh. He spends much of his time supporting his children, who are athletes, and touring up and down the East Coast as a motivational speaker.
When people ask who was his hero, Bream always answered it was his father, Sylvester.
“My dad at times had to work three jobs to take care of the six kids,” he said. “My mom and dad were great examples. They gave us a legacy to uphold and to keep going forward.”
Russell summed up what Bream has meant to baseball in Mt. Holly Springs. “I am so proud of him. It made my life of 45 years in coaching worthwhile.”