One day last December, Brant Alyea was about to start work at the crap tables at the Tropicana in Atlantic City when he looked at a newspaper clipping left in his mailbox by his boss, Jim Sattazahn. The clipping was from Baseball Card News, and it listed the sons of former major leaguers now active in professional baseball. Right there in black and white was a Brant Alyea, an outfielder for Medicine Hat in the Toronto chain. "My heart went through my shirt," says Alyea.
There are many sons of former major leaguers playing pro ball, but the saga of the Brant Alyeas, father and son, is a truly remarkable one. Garrabrant Ryerson Alyea III had not seen his son since 1968, when he said goodbye to 15-month-old Brant Jose Alyea Medina and the boy's mother in Managua, Nicaragua. As the years passed, the father went on a journey that took him to Minnesota and the American League playoffs, to Oakland and injury, and out of baseball into bartending, the insurance business and an Atlantic City casino. In the meantime, his son experienced an odyssey of his own—through an earthquake, a revolution and an escape from Managua to North America that was something out of the movie El Norte.
And now, May 12, 1986, Brant Alyea is about to watch his son play in a regular-season game for the first time. They are in the South Carolina crossroads of Florence, where the Blue Jays have a Class A South Atlantic League franchise. The last professional game Brant Alyea had been to took place almost 14 years ago. He doesn't remember exactly when, only that it was in Oakland the first week of September in '72, shortly after he was placed on the disabled list and Charlie Finley obtained Matty Alou to take his place. That afternoon he was told that his season was over and there was no need to hang around. So the next day he flew back to Rhode Island, his off-season home, and in the ensuing weeks he watched on TV as the A's won the pennant and the World Series.
On this evening, Alyea is one of about four dozen people occupying the aluminum folding chairs and splintered wooden bleachers of dusty American Legion Field, down the road from the Piggly Wiggly and the 301 Drive-in (BURGERS, FRIES, GIZZARDS, HOTDOGS). He had gotten off work at the Tropicana at 4 a.m. and driven 10 hours to see the Blue Jays play the Savannah Cardinals. As Florence catcher Greg David throws down to second to begin another night in the South Atlantic League, Alyea turns to his friend Nancy and says, "For nearly 14 years, just the thought of going back to a ballpark made me nauseous. I feel as if I'm starting over."
The 45-year-old admittedly overweight Tropicana floor person of French-Dutch descent and the skinny 19-year-old Hispanic at first base don't seem to have much in common besides a name. But they do share a couple of things. They have both played ball in the same park in Managua, although the name has been changed from Somoza Stadium to Rigoberto Lopez Perez Stadium, in honor of the man who shot Somoza. And somehow the son inherited the American dream of a father he never knew. To chase that dream, he risked his life to come, by way of Canada, to the United States. "I could have been a star in Nicaragua, but it's not the same as playing in the States," the young Alyea was saying before the game. "The real big leagues is here. Two years ago, I never thought that I could be here, getting the chance."
His son steps into the box. "Honest to God, if you could see some tapes I have at home of me hitting, you'd be amazed because we look so much alike," the father says. "He's like me in ways he doesn't even know, but I believe in heredity. I made the same movements with the bat getting ready for the pitch; I had the same stance; I even put my hands on my hips in the field the way he does. I know he's sort of skinny now, but so was I at his age. He's 6-3, 180 now; he'll grow to be 6-4, 200 or 210 pounds. I'm more nervous watching my boy than I was when I played."
Brant Alyea and Auda Medina spent a weekend together at the end of the Nicaraguan Winter League season in February 1966. "When I came back for the next season that November, the boy was one week old," says his father. "I was afraid that I was going to get into some kind of trouble. I didn't know the customs. I told them I was willing to take full responsibility. Pancho Herrera and another local player then told me not to worry, that the only way I could get in trouble was to turn my back—which a lot of American players had done—and disgrace the child and the family. I went and signed the baptismal certificate and gave him my name. I didn't sign it Garrabrant, I didn't want to confuse the poor kid. I just signed it Brant Alyea, and I guess her family wrote in the Jose and Medina. They were so happy that I signed the papers and took away any shame that they threw a party. They were hugging me, toasting me. After Brant was born I got to know Auda better. She'd bring the baby to my hotel and lay him down on the bed. She was a nurse, and he was always immaculate, beautifully behaved. She did a great job.
"I tried to help, but there was political trouble in January 1967, and I had to get out before I could get my stuff. I went back the next fall on my way to Venezuela and saw them again and kept sending a little money to help out, but after '68, I couldn't get into the country. The earthquake hit in December 1972 and I couldn't find them again. I learned later that she'd written me, but my [second] wife threw the letters away. I heard from Pancho Herrera—who is Brant's godfather—in 1976. He told me he'd seen Brant, that he was big and always playing ball. That was the last I heard."
Two summers ago, Alyea was having a post-golf drink with his bosses, Sattazahn and Bobby Kesel. On the NBC Nightly News was a report from Nicaragua. "My boy could be one in the middle of all that," Alyea told his friends. "I guess I'll never know."
Toronto scout Wayne Morgan was at the World Youth Baseball Tournament in Kindersley, Saskatchewan, in July 1984. When he saw in the program that a Brant Alyea was playing for Nicaragua, his curiosity was naturally piqued. Then when he saw the angular 17-year-old outfielder swing the bat, he suggested that the Blue Jays follow up on him, just in case he was related to the former player and might be able to get out of Nicaragua.