If there were a Grammy for most inspiring album, San Diego Padres third base coach Tim Flannery might have won it for his latest CD, Pieces of the Past. Flannery, a singer and guitarist, recorded a collection of Celtic bluegrass tunes he wrote for his father, Ragon, 74, who has Alzheimer's disease. As Ragon gradually loses touch with the outside world, his son's music is often the only thing that can reach him. "Some days he can't remember anything or anyone. Then you play one of the songs, and he starts reciting the lyrics," says Tim, who was backed up by Jackson Browne and Bruce Hornsby on the CD. "It shows how powerful music is—it's healing our whole family"
Last summer, on a trip with his three kids to see Ragon's old homestead in Owsley County, Ky., Tim stuck a lump of coal in his pocket. When he returned to San Diego, he handed the black nugget to Ragon, a former minister in that coal-mining region. Ragon's eyes filled with recognition, and he began rattling off memories of his Kentucky childhood. Tim, a Padres infielder from 1979 to '89 who has two other albums to his credit, released Pieces of the Past in January. It's available through his Web site, www.timflannery.com.
"The music is my father's and my way of connecting," Tim says. The track Immigrant Eyes, which recalls the perilous transatlantic crossings Irish immigrants endured en route to Ellis Island, connected with country star Garth Brooks, who's working out with the Padres in spring training. "You made me cry," Brooks told Flannery after hearing the song. Browne had the same reaction to an early version of the title track. "To write a song as good as the one Tim wrote about his dad," says Browne, whose late father also suffered from Alzheimer's, "that's kind of what everybody's in music for."