SI Vault
Phillip Timothy Gay
August 13, 1979
An unforgettable saga about a 75-year-old baseball fan, a star Dodger pitcher, Imperial Wizards and the goodness in man that all the world's bias and indifference cannot extinguish
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 13, 1979

The Peach Brandy Man

An unforgettable saga about a 75-year-old baseball fan, a star Dodger pitcher, Imperial Wizards and the goodness in man that all the world's bias and indifference cannot extinguish

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

I drove back to San Diego at full speed. I took care of my business the next morning, and made arrangements to have my classes covered.

We arrived at Dodger Stadium a few minutes before the parking lots were opened. It was a sunny day. Everyone was in high spirits. Dodger caps, banners, bumper stickers abounded. Smiles and optimism were exchanged. Cans of beer were passed along. "Go Dodger Blue" cheers went up periodically. But Uncle Arbria was disappointed in Chavez Ravine: it wasn't as fine as the boys had said. He talked about a long-dead relative until the parking lots were opened. He grumbled about "the big shots" who got tickets to the Series while "the average fan" who had come to the games all year long had to go begging. If Walter O'Malley wasn't careful he would lose the fans. He didn't think Don Rickles had come to a single game during the regular season. Those celebrities just came for the publicity, to be on television. It would serve O'Malley right. A man should never bite the hand that feeds him.

We asked around for directions to the players' entrance. They came through the entrance that was closest to where they parked. Sutton? Couldn't say. He might park anyplace. So we were good friends of Don Sutton? Good. Fine. He hoped we found him.

Uncle Arbria became increasingly critical of Los Angelenos. In Atlanta, people would have been more helpful to a visitor from out of town.

The towering, chain-link fence that led into the centerfield wall was opened to let in media technicians with their cables and cameras and such. A paunchy security guard stood by, shooing the fans away in a pleading, Southern-white voice. My uncle greeted him as "a man from my part of the country." The man's wife was indeed from Atlanta. He listened politely, nodding from time to time as my uncle told him of his relationship with the Braves' groundkeeper, his friendships with the various Dodgers, the peach brandy, the phone number Don had given him, the lady who answered the phone, my brother's sudden trip to San Luis Obispo. As final demonstration of his authenticity, my uncle let the guard examine his cap. It was like the ones the players wore, not like the ones you saw out there atop the fans' heads. The guard wasn't allowed on the field to deliver messages, but maybe his sergeant could help us. Southerners have to stick together.

The sergeant was a middle-aged black man, a little overweight, tired, flat-footed. He fidgeted impatiently, gradually overcoming his cynicism as my uncle gave him the full story of how we happened to be standing before him. He left, saying he would see if one of the ground-keepers would come back and talk with my uncle. Maybe one of them would take a message to the dugout.

The stadium was beginning to fill. The sounds of batting practice could be heard. People approached us, trying to buy tickets. A swaggering man with a deep tan and wavy, receding hair wouldn't take no for an answer. He was willing to pay our price. My uncle finally walked away in disgust.

The sergeant returned with one of the groundkeepers. My uncle introduced himself, dropped the name of the Braves' head groundkeeper, and explained our predicament as he had explained it to the security guards, the ushers and the gate attendants. The groundkeeper went away, winking at my uncle and promising he'd see that Don would get his message.

We stood around until almost game time, watching ticket holders hurry past, fighting off scalpers. Still no word from our groundkeeper friend. Linda Ronstadt and a young redheaded man came in through our gate. She wore jeans and a Dodger jacket. The bleachers erupted with cheers, whistles, catcalls. Uncle Arbria had never heard of her, said she was too skinny. Still no word from our groundkeeper friend.

"If we had given that guy a 10, I bet he would have given Don your message!" I said.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20