JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It's easy to write about great people and certainly Mr. Bragan was a great man. Decorated WWII veteran, figured out how to make some money after the war, wanted to be in baseball, bought the Suns and found out he liked everything about it: The baseball, the ownership, the players, the managers, coming to the ballpark and the city of Jacksonville. So instead of selling the club, he made it flourish and was rewarded with five championships. He was recognized as the Minor League Executive of the Year in 2004 by the Sporting News for his efforts.
But those are the nuts and bolts.
Those of us who knew him saw him as a true patriarch. A father-figure who commanded respect but more often engendered love as the primary emotion. I always sat up a little straighter in his presence. He regaled me with stories about baseball, about shooting sporting clays or real birds, about fishing and occasionally about how things REALLY were in WWII.
I was fishing with Mr. Bragan, Pedro his son, my Dad (who just celebrated his 79th birthday), and my son Cole once when my Dad and Mr. Bragan got into a conversation about the ‘60's, and the ‘50's and finally about the ‘40's and Mr. Bragan's service in Patton's 3rd Army. And a strange thing happened. Pedro fell eerily silent and as we fished, Mr. Bragan told numerous stories about his experiences in the War and he and my father smoked cigars, caught a few fish, and acted like old friends. When I asked Pedro later if he felt all right, he asked, "Why?" And I said, "Because I know you and you barely said a word while we were fishing!" Pedro got this amazed look on his face and said, "That's because I was listening to Daddy talk to your Dad. I'd never heard any of those stories before!"
And that's the kind of person Mr. Bragan actually was. Sometimes larger than life, and sometimes just a guy in the room who was trying to play the "Aw Shucks, I'm just a guy from Birmingham" guy. And after getting to know him, you realized usually when he was playing that "I'm just happy to be here" guy, it was usually because he was the smartest guy in the room.
Mr. Bragan taught me a certain amount of toughness, but he also taught me that you could be gentle as well. He always had candy on his desk and spread it out like everyday was your birthday.
He provided me with a close relationship and treated me like a son. But I soon came to realize he treated everybody like a son. And he also provided me with a chance to have a relationship with Pedro, who I regard as one of my closest friends.
He talked to me once at his desk about making sure I had clean and dry socks, and how important that was during WWII. He then pulled out his discharge papers from the US Army from his desk and showed me how many "credits" he had compiled when they finally sent him home.
I shared secrets and cigars with Mr. Bragan. He always somehow had one handy for me and we smoked together in the upper deck of the Baseball Grounds before a game and when it legal, at his seat at Wolfson Park.
He was generous and happy. He loved to sing and occasionally entertain.
My first conversation with Mr. Bragan started with him saying, "Hi Sam, nice to meet you. How's your family? Can I get you anything? You hungry? Thanks for coming."
My last conversation, at the end of June with Mr. Bragan started with him saying, "Hi Sam, how you doing?" How's your family" How's your Daddy? Can I get you anything? A salad? (With bellowing laughter thinking it was preposterous than anybody would order a salad at the ballpark after Pedro put it in the concession stand.) Thanks for coming."
And my next conversation with Mr. Bragan I hope goes something like this, "Hi Sam, how you doing? How's your family? How's your Daddy? When you get back up here from your time ‘down there' I'll get you a salad!"
And hopefully we'll share a cigar.
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