Peter Sr. Was One of a Kind

Posted: July 10, 2012 in sports

Peter Bragan Sr. was like a character out of a Damon Runyon story. He was a character with his ever-present giant cigar and his booming Southern drawl.

He greeted everyone the same way every time. “Hey buddy,” he’d bellow. “You all right?” He’d start singing at the drop of a hat. He’d bet you on how many raindrops would fall between sundown and sunrise.

And, of course, he loved baseball. All the Bragans did. Brother Bobby Bragan was the best known, both as a Major League player and manager. Brother Jimmy once served as president of the Southern League.

Senior, which everyone called him the last quarter of a century of his 89 years on earth, sold cars for a living, but baseball was always in his heart. When he purchased the Jacksonville Suns 27 years ago, it fulfilled a childhood dream to be part of baseball.

He may have saved professional baseball in Jacksonville. He certainly enhanced it. The Suns were a floundering minor league franchise in minor league baseball’s dying years. Wolfson Park had charm but not enough appeal to attract fans.

Senior made minor league baseball a fun experience. Baseball was only a part of it. He turned games into a fun family experience as well as a “date-night” destination. (The Thursday Throwdowns offer beer at a cheap price and attract thousands of young singles looking to see, be seen and meet friends.)

He seldom missed a game until the last several years of his life. He didn’t hide from the fans, preferring to sit behind home plate in the open so he could greet anyone who approached him. He never met a stranger.

Beneath Senior’s smile and grandfatherly demeanor was a tough, hard ass businessman. He constantly battled with city leaders to first improve Wolfson Park and then to build a new ballpark, finally succeeding when he convinced then-mayor John Delaney to include the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in the Better Jacksonville Plan. The park opened in 2003 and attendance shot up to record numbers.

He’d also chew out employees, including players and coaches, for any misstep. The fans came first. He made certain the concessions were top notch AND profitable. He demanded fans be treated with courtesy. He demanded the park be clean and safe.

Winning was important. He battled with executives of the Suns’ major league affiliate to keep players and get their best talent.

Son Peter (Pedro) was always at his daddy’s side and has run the franchise in recent years when Senior’s health worsened, but Senior never became a figurehead.

Senior died last weekend when he heart finally gave out. It was such a big heart.

Jacksonville has lost a dear friend.     

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