Brandon Puffer II
"It was The State of Texas vs. Brandon Puffer.”
People make mistakes.
Its human nature and most of us probably make multiple mistakes a day, both big and small.
The worst kind of mistakes are the ones that negatively impact other people long term and those are usually the toughest for everyone to move on from.
One thing we always hear about mistakes is that you have to use them as a learning experience. Take something negative and make a positive out of it. Sometimes that’s an easy task. Get too much of the plate on an 0-2 fastball and it ends up in the stands. Next time, you make sure that pitch is a little more off the plate. Other times, it’s not that easy.
Brandon Puffer made a mistake in the early hours of September 13, 2008 and it turned his, and the lives of many others, upside down in a matter of seconds.
Puffer joins us this week for Part II of a special Spitballin’ to discuss how he has dealt with the consequences of his mistake and how he has used a new lease on life to bring good in the world every day.
On the back cover of Puffer’s new book, From the Bullpen to the State Pen¸ the saying “You are better than your worst mistake” is right there in bold letters. There’s also a quote from Warren Buffet that reads, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation, but only five minutes to ruin it.”
After reading the book, you realize that both of those statements are very true in Puffer’s case. His book details not only the events that led up to his arrest, but also dives deep into his childhood to examine what makes Brandon Puffer the person he is today.
It is as honest a book that you’ll ever come across. Do you want to know what goes through someone’s mind when the door of a prison cell shuts behind them for the first time? It’s in there. Do you want to know what goes through someone’s mind who ends up in a jail cell despite never having been in serious trouble before? It’s in there. Do you want to know what it’s like to share a jail cell with someone serving three life sentences for a triple murder? That’s in there too.
What’s also in the book is how Puffer leaned on God and a love for his family throughout his time served. How he is incredibly remorseful for the crime he committed. How he has made the most of his second chance in life to spread positivity and encouragement since his release.
Puffer’s rise to the Major Leagues was covered in Part I of this interview, and that’s a great story by itself. However, the redemption of Brandon Puffer and the good he has spread in God’s name since his release is an even better story.
Sometimes we get serious on BallNine, and this is one of those instances. Please join us as we go Spitballin’ again this week with Brandon Puffer.
Thanks for being willing to talk to us about your arrest and basically what Brandon Puffer’s life has been like since September of 2008. I found your personal story and your book From the Bullpen to the State Pen very powerful and inspiring. Let’s start out at the beginning with that. First can you tell our readers about what happened on the night of September 12, 2008 and the early hours of September 13?
September 12 started the same as any other day of the previous 14 years. I woke up, went to the ballpark and did my routine. I was playing the Crash Davis, Bull Durham type of role as an older guy in AA. I was in my 30s and there were a bunch of great young prospects I was mentoring. I always felt like I couldn’t let them down and that I had these struggles and demons off the field. I kept this fake front on. They would ask me all season long to go out with them, but I never did. We had clinched a championship and going into the ballpark that day I said to myself, “You know, I’m going to go blow off some steam with the guys tonight.”
I had enough battles in my family with addiction that I knew it wasn’t a good idea, but I had that small voice telling me to do it. We had some drinks in the clubhouse and then went out and had a great time. I just couldn’t turn it off. I didn’t remember a whole lot, but I woke up the next morning in an orange jumpsuit in the county jail. They called my name over the intercom. Brandon Boyd was our clubhouse manager and he was there to bail me out. He had paperwork with him, so I was able to read what happened.
It was like I wasn’t even a human being in there. I had to lean on God and realize it didn’t matter who these people think I am, all that matters is who God thinks I am.
Can you summarize those events that you read about that led to your arrest?
It absolutely blew me away. I got charged with burglary of an inhabitation. I walked in an unlocked door to a woman’s place where I was not supposed to be. Something in my mind said, “You know, I had met this girl before and she’d probably be OK with me being here.” Obviously, that wasn’t true. It was a horrible mindset to be in. I scared her and she screamed. I ran out and jumped down 19 stairs. The next thing I knew I was waking up in county jail. The only thing I remember is hearing her scream because I intruded on her security. That was a miserable feeling to know I effected somebody in that way. Even with all that, I thought, “You know, that was really stupid.” As pro ballplayers you feel invincible and that things will always be alright. That wasn’t the case and I needed that humility.
What were the next events after you were bailed out?
We played two more games and I pitched the next night. I thought it was all going to go away, but it didn’t. They picked up the charges and I was indicted. It went very public and it was time for me to face the consequences for these actions that I brought upon myself.
I read in your book that nine months had passed between your arrest and the court case. What was your mindset like during that time?
Baseball was on the backburner. It was the offseason and teams were calling, but I didn’t even know where my life was going. A couple of weeks after being home, the Frisco RoughRiders media guy called me and asked if I got into some trouble. I hadn’t told anybody. He said a public syndicate had called them and was asking questions, which meant that other places would pick up the story. I called my family and told them what had happened. I never looked at the media about it, but one day, I pulled it up and saw the headline, “Former Houston Astros Pitcher Facing 5-99 Years in Prison.” I was like, “Whoa. Holy cow.” My lawyer had been trying to get through to me on the severity of things, but I was in a fog trying to process what I had been through. My mindset was, “Please get me out of this. I’ll be a good boy. I don’t want to go to prison.”
Brandon Puffer of the San Francisco Giants poses for a portrait during the San Francisco Giants Photo Day at Scottsdale Stadium on March 2, 2005 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
What was your experience like as the hearing was approaching?
My lawyer was getting everything in order and gathering character witnesses. He told me I would likely get probation because I had never been in trouble before. But he told me I needed to be prepared for anything. We had a three day hearing and it was surreal. It was The State of Texas vs. Brandon Puffer. It was almost an out of body experience. On the third day, they came back in after deliberations and announced that I was receiving five years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice System. It hit hard. It was definitely a gut punch. They put me in cuffs and I asked if I could go say goodbye to my dad. They said, “No,” and took me to my cell.
What was going through your mind when the reality hit that you were going to prison?
When the bars closed, it was different. I started thinking about how old my kids would be in five years. It was very emotional and painful. But to have change, there needs to be pain. I surrendered everything I had in that cell that day. The prayers changed from praying not to go to jail to praying about getting through this and not letting my experience be in vain. I wanted to be an encouragement to anyone.
I have a buddy who told me a story of the coffee bean that he had learned in prison. His name is Damon West and this old convict came up to him when he was going to jail and said, “West, you are about to go to a very dangerous place. You can be like an egg put in boiling water and come out hardened where nobody recognizes you when you come out. You can go in like a carrot in boiling water and become very soft and nobody would be happy with those results. Or you could be a coffee bean, which changes the whole environment around you. It changes the boiling water to coffee.” So he shared that with me and that was my prayer. I wanted to go down there and change things. People were telling me to join gangs and do different things. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to respect everyone, be as positive as I could be and do my time. That carried me through to where we are now. Prior to that, my happiness was tied to my kids, me performing well, getting called up to the Majors. That was all taken away from me. I had to find a joy and peace in that cell. These were terrible conditions, but I could still be peaceful.
Brandon Puffer of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Chicago White Sox on March 7, 2005 at Tucson Electric Park in Tucson, Arizona. The Giants defeated the White Sox 6-5. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
A big part of your journey before, during and after prison is based in religion. Can you talk about the role that God played for you in prison?
Honestly, it was and is everything. I grew up in a faith-based family, but we have to walk our own path. I made the comment, “You never know He’s all you need until He’s all you have.” I knew He was important, but I never looked at it that way. But everyday [in prison] I would say, “Just please God, get me through this day. Show me what you have for me today.” Then at night I would say, “Thank you God for getting me through one more day. It’s one more day closer to my family.” It was constant prayer. The first time I hit the system in Texas it was summer and about 140 degrees in those metal buildings. All I had was my Bible. I couldn’t sleep because I was so hot, so I just kept diving in. I still have the same Bible. Never did I have the opportunity to lock in and focus on God in my life. It’s still a battle. My demons haven’t gone away. I’ve been sober 15 years, but I still say, “God please get me through this day.”
Was there any time that you considered to be a low point during that time?
There were a couple of times. The first time I came up for parole was nine months in. I had all these great support letters in place and had done everything I could to get home to my family. Instead, they gave me a two year setoff. That meant I was staying in and had no chance to even talk to them again for two years. That was tough. My brain at that time was struggling with having to do at least two more years. Then there was a little circumstance where I was having a rough day in the chow hall. There was a guard who was a little bit of a jerk and he said something to me and I didn’t understand. I went to ask him a question and he just said, “Shut up inmate and sit down!” I hadn’t been talked to like that and it hurt. It was like I wasn’t even a human being in there. I had to lean on God and realize it didn’t matter who these people think I am, all that matters is who God thinks I am.
When you got out of prison after three and a half years, what did you notice about how the world changed?
Technology had changed a lot with smart phones. I had a cell phone when I went in. At first when I got out, I had a little flip phone that had belonged to my grandma who had passed away while I was gone. The first time I got an iPhone, I had trouble texting, my thumbs were too fat and I couldn’t get it. Even trying to set it up at the Apple Store, the people were trying to explain things to me. At that time, I felt like everybody knew where I had come from. So I just said, “Sorry, I have been gone for three and a half years and don’t understand this.” I got a calendar and started writing everything out in pen. My brother was like, “No, it’s all here on your phone now.” I also noticed that the world just moves on without you. I was in jail and the world just kept moving. As important as we may think we are, this was a lesson in humility. You could flush me right out of here and my loved ones are going to be sad; there’s going to be some pain, but at the end of the day things are gonna keep moving. You have to hop back on the treadmill and keep going.
A portrait of RHP Brandon Puffer #59 during the Houston Astros media day at Osceola County Stardium in Kissimmee, FloridaDIGITAL IMAGE Photographer: M. David Leeds/Getty Images
Can you put into words how great it was to be able to spend time with your family again?
That was amazing. By far the best part. Having your freedom back certainly was huge. The gang wars, riots, sleeping on a metal mattress and all the things that happen in prison stinks. At the end of the day, the worst part for me was not being able to reach out and touch my loved ones. When I got out I was texting them or on the phone constantly. Having that line of communication back was huge. I always remind myself, at the end of a very long day I might not want to call my parents, but I think about all the times I couldn’t. That puts things in perspective.
We’ve alluded to your book, From the Bullpen to the State Pen. I read it cover-to-cover in one day because I found it so honest and inspiring. It had to be hard to write, but I think people can get so much out of it by reading it. What do you hope people get from reading it?
The number one thing I hope people get from it is encouragement. I don’t want people to feel bad for me or just be entertained. It’s all about encouragement. First, it’s right there on the back of the book. You’re so much more than your worst mistake. No matter who you are, you have made mistakes in your life. Maybe not on the level of mine, or maybe it was on the level of mine. But when you feel like there’s no recovery from the guilt or shame and that’s really holding them back, those are the people I want to inspire. I want to say, “Look, you made a mistake. Let’s start moving forward. If I can move forward from this, you can too.” I am now coaching and mentoring young men, so through this book I hope to send the message to not go down this road. It’s not like I hadn’t done anything dumb before, it just all came to a head on the night I was arrested. If there are kids going down that path, maybe this book can open some eyes and encourage kids to not go down that path. My dad had told me so many times that addiction and alcoholism only ends in prison or death. I always just said, “OK dad, but I need to have my fun.” Everybody has their own journey, but if even one person thinks, “I was gonna make this poor choice, but I read about this knucklehead spending three and a half years in prison for one poor choice.” Even if it helps one person in that situation, it’s well worth it for me.
That’s what I took from the book. We all face difficulties on different levels and I always think it’s beneficial to hear stories of other people who struggled through things that are much more difficult than what I may be facing and came out OK on the other side. I really found your book inspirational. I’ve done over 100 of these interviews and this one has really stood out to me. I really thank you for your honesty here and in your book. One last question to leave our readers with: Who is Coach Puff Positive?
Coach Puff Positive is a guy who has been through a lot. Someone who had positivity and gives encouragement, listens to the right podcasts, reads God’s word and other self-help books and is now on a mission of encouragement to help people. I own a non-profit youth and high school baseball program select travel organization. I have an opportunity with the platform of playing baseball and a platform of having been in prison. If I have an opportunity be in people’s lives, I want it to be through positivity and encouragement. If I could use the pain I went through or if I could use the joy of being on that mountain top of pitching in the Big Leagues, that’s great. However I can get through to people who give me their ear. I didn’t make up the name Coach Puff Positive. We were thinking of a name for our Twitter account for the book and we were like, “Hey, this is who you are! You’re Coach Puff and you’re positive!” So I was like, “OK, let’s go with it.” I had three and a half years in an eight by ten cell in solitude going through some things. I did business with God, read, went to cognitive intervention classes and did things that helped retool my mind. Our mind is like our body, if you work on it and are intentional about it, you can improve it. Everything I put out on Coach Puff Positive, I need more than anybody else. I battle every day with anxiety and depression and the positivity that helps keep me going and have a good attitude with it all.
Brandon Puffer’s book, From the Bullpen to the State Pen, is available through Amazon, through his website, coachpuffpositive.com and other places books are sold. You can follow Brandon Puffer on Twitter @CoachPuffPositiv as well.