Crime, gangs and poverty swarmed his childhood surroundings in Stockton, Calif., where he was raised by a single mother, Jodie Atwood. Heartache topped those already grim circumstances when Jodie died of skin cancer while Braden was a senior in high school.
But on Sunday afternoon the Oakland lefty, making the 53rd start of his career, retired all 27 Tampa Bay batters in succession to record just the 19th perfect game in Major League history, a 4-0 A's victory.
Braden's grandmother, Peggy Lindsey, has guided him through his struggles. And just as she does every time her grandson takes the mound in Oakland, she made the hour-long drive from Stockton on Sunday afternoon, this time to witness Braden pitch against the team with the best record in baseball.
Thus, the 26-year-old kid took to the bump against the Rays as Peggy watched her grandson's imperfect life suddenly become perfect for just a day -- a day that happened to be Mother's Day.
"It's a more important day for my grandmother than anything," Braden said. "That's the biggest thing to be able to give her something like this on a day of this magnitude, considering everything we've been through together. It's more about her for me.
"It hasn't been a joyous day for me in a while. But to know that I still get to come out and compete and play a game on that day, that makes it a little better. With my grandma in the stands, that makes it a lot better. To be able to give her this today was perfect."
It was, in every sense of the word. The two embraced in tears, exchanging a handful of words in between moments of tender silence. After all, not a whole lot really needed to be said.
"He just said, 'I love you,'" said Lindsey, wearing an A's fleece and still very much in disbelief.
Braden needed just 109 pitches (77 strikes) to retire the Rays' 27 batters, six of whom struck out against the Oakland southpaw in his first career complete game. He entered the game averaging 1.70 walks per nine innings, but he was also coming off consecutive losses in which he yielded a combined nine runs through 11 innings.
None of it mattered Sunday, though, as Braden left 12,228 fans in Oakland cheering from their feet for more than 20 minutes following the final out, a grounder to shortstop Cliff Pennington off the bat of Gabe Kapler that made its way to first baseman Daric Barton.
"I told him, 'Your mom would be so proud,'" Lindsey said. "Leave it to Dal to do something different. If you know Dal, then you know that's his way."
The only other pitcher in A's history to toss a perfect game was Catfish Hunter, who did so on May 8, 1968, against Minnesota. The last no-hitter in A's franchise history came on June 29, 1990, when Dave Stewart accomplished the feat.
The A's now join the White Sox, Yankees and Indians as the only clubs to have thrown more than one perfect game. Braden's, in one way, tops all the others: No one has thrown even a no-hitter against a team with a winning percentage as high as Tampa Bay's .733 mark coming into the game.
"It was a great day, Dallas was phenomenal," A's general manager Billy Beane said. "Really, the thing about it is if you're going to pitch a perfect game, that's a team over there that you wouldn't want to choose to try and do it against. They have great plate discipline, speed, everything. So it makes it even more special and quite an accomplishment."
Braden understood his place in history.
"There are not that many of them," said Braden, who was drafted by the A's in the 24th round in 2004. "It's pretty special. I don't really know what to think of it yet. It's kind of new. It's still kind of very fresh to me. It's some very select company. Also, those guys -- if you look at the body of work those other 18 individuals put together -- that's something I'd like to have a little more than just one day. So there's definitely more to do."
Still, Braden's accomplishments on Sunday were enough to leave the baseball community talking about the Stockton kid for quite some time. He greeted 17 of the 27 batters he faced with first-pitch strikes -- a facet of his game in which he's always prided himself since he isn't equipped with "dominant stuff."
"That's the key to me ever having success," he said. "I'm not going to blow anything by anybody. I'm not going to dominate a lineup, if you will. I just need them to not square it up. It's a formidable lineup over there to try to flip over."
It's also one that entered the three-game set against the A's with baseball's best record, which made Sunday's performance all the more incredible for everyone involved.
"I was on the wrong end of one last year, so it's a heck of a lot better being on this end of things," said Gabe Gross, who was with the Rays when Chicago's Mark Buehrle tossed baseball's last perfect game, against Tampa Bay last August.
The Rays are the second team to be victimized by two straight perfect games. The Reds' Tom Browning threw the 12th perfect game in Major League history against the Dodgers in September 1988, and the Expos' Dennis Martinez followed with the 13th perfect game, also against the Dodgers, in July 1991.
"It's awesome," said A's outfielder Eric Patterson, who made two crucial plays that involved what Braden deemed "absolute missiles." "Obviously, it's happened 19 times in history so it's not like it happens every day. Being part of it and being in the game when it happened was definitely something special. It's a big win for us. A win at home is huge, especially against a team of that caliber."
Patterson wasn't the only one who gave Braden a hand in achieving perfection. Kevin Kouzmanoff, who set a National League single-season record for third basemen with a .990 fielding percentage last season, knocked down the first out of the game by reaching high and wide for a line drive from Jason Bartlett. He also ran at full speed into Oakland's dugout to record the second out of the eighth inning.
"Kouzmanoff, again, stole my thunder," Braden said, "by making sweet plays over by the dugout. I always tease Kouz. I say he tends to play things into web gems, but I think that one was a straight-up decent play."
Aside from a handful of hard-hit balls that turned into outs, Braden essentially put Tampa Bay's lineup to rest without much hassle. He endured a 12-pitch battle with Kapler in the sixth and watched one of those balls land just outside the left-field foul pole before he finally got the Rays' right fielder to pop out to Kouzmanoff. Not too many other batters gave him such trouble; he ran up a three-ball count to just four hitters.
"Dallas has four great pitches -- above-average pitches," said catcher Landon Powell, who also contributed to the historic win with two hits and the first RBI of the game. "Obviously, his screwball or changeup -- whatever you want to call it -- is his out pitch. But he does a real good job of locating his fastball in and out. Today, the biggest thing was he was locating his fastball in and in off the plate, which really kept hitters from leaning out over, which really made the changeup even better.
"The only time that guys can usually hit that changeup is when they're cheating and they're leaning out over the plate, and he didn't let them do that today by throwing his fastball in."
Meanwhile, Oakland's dugout and bullpen filled with nothing but silence. The same type of atmosphere was found around Lindsey, who didn't let any friends sitting by her say a word after she realized what was transpiring in the seventh inning.
"That's when I started to get nervous," she said. "Or about when he was 5 years old."
Less than an hour later, she found herself climbing over the dugout wall to grab a hold of Braden, who wouldn't have chosen to share the moment with anyone else.
"My grandmother just made it very clear to me that all the sacrifices my mom had made and that she had made and the life that we had led up 'til that point was all to get me on the baseball field and to keep me out of jail," he said. "And she made it very abundantly clear that I was not headed to the baseball field, that I was headed to the other place. That's when I kind of snapped my head around and said, 'You know what? Yeah, I pretty much got one shot if I'm going to have any shot, and I need to jump on it.'
"Now we understand what it takes to make a sacrifice, and now I have an even better appreciation for being able to just give my grandma this."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.