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These days, Dewon Brazelton's happy being a doting dad

ST. PETERSBURG

It is a magnificent throw, one Evan Longoria makes before every home game right after playing catch with Logan Forsythe. The Rays third baseman walks through the gate behind home plate and tosses the baseball to a young fan.

Before a late June game against the Red Sox, Longoria's throw arced toward a budding 12-year-old Little League pitcher named D.J., who grabbed it with his glove. Sitting nearby, wearing a smile that could light all of Tropicana Field, was D.J.'s proud dad, Dewon Brazelton.

Yep, that Dewon Brazelton.

Whatever happened to him?

That question has been asked this season around the Trop, where there is a lot of reminiscing about the Devil Rays days as the Rays' season sinks to depths rarely reached in the club's history.

What happened to this guy? What happened to that guy?

What happened to the big right-hander taken third overall in the 2001 draft? The one who was supposed to be the cornerstone of pitching staffs to come? The one who was 8-23 with a 5.98 ERA in 54 games over four years in Tampa Bay?

You mean Dewon Brazelton?

Yeah, him.

"I'm doing great, man," said Brazelton, in a "thanks for asking" way.

Brazelton, 36, last pitched in 2010 for an independent league team in Kansas City. He now sells commercial and residential real estate for Bulls Realty and manages a gas station and tire shop in the bay area. He plays golf as often as he can.

He worked for three years as a bartender at what had been called the X.O. Club at Amalie Arena.

He speaks to students at Sexton Elementary in St. Petersburg.

He shares custody of Dewon Jr. with D.J's mom, Elizabeth Boyce, in Orlando.

He is a doting father.

"I love being around my son," Brazelton said.

He puts an emphasis on the word "love."

"I still missed a lot of his life," he said. "Now I enjoy being a part of my son's day-to-day life. I looooove going to parent-teacher conferences. I check his school work. 'Why did you get a frowny face?' I looooove being a part of that."

• • •

Brazelton is aware of his place in Devil Rays history. He would have a speaking part if they made a movie about all that went wrong during the franchise's first 10 years. He wouldn't be the only one.

But Brazelton was the high draft pick, taken out of Middle Tennessee State, handed a $4.2 million signing bonus and immediately placed on the major-league roster in late August, where he rode the bench until the end of the season.

He was armed with a mid 90s fastball and a good changeup. The Devil Rays tried without success to teach him a curveball the following summer at Double-A Orlando. He did learn a slider, but he now realizes he was unprepared to face major-league hitters when he finally arrived in 2002 as a September callup.

"I'm not blaming anybody for anything, but they tried to get me here so quick, I wasn't ready," he said. "They said to learn on the job. It didn't work. You can't figure things out in the American League East."

Still, by 2005 Brazelton was the opening day starter.

He began that season 1-7 and infamously left the team for three weeks after pitching 42/3 innings and allowing five runs in a May 11 loss to the White Sox.

The reason was D.J.

Brazelton and Boyce were fighting for custody. It became ugly.

There were arguments. The police were called.

There were restraining orders placed against Brazelton and charges of domestic violence with children present. There were battles over child support payments and how much Brazelton should pay.

Brazelton's on-field life was just as messy.

"I'm not making any excuses for my pitching," he said. "I love my son so much. That was the constant going on in my life. It hurt so much. It was weighing on my mind heavily during this time. I didn't know how to handle the situation. I felt helpless."

It took years, but the matter was eventually resolved. Brazelton and Boyce now share custody on nearly a 50-50 basis. They are amicable, even posing together with D.J. for a picture recently after one of his all-star tournament games.

"That was the first time we ever did that," Brazelton said. "It felt weird."

• • •

Ginger Tolliver works the suites on the 200 level at the Trop. She has known Brazelton since the day he signed in 2001.

"Love him to pieces," she said.

Tolliver looked after Brazelton once he moved north to play for Tampa Bay. She became his mother figure.

It was Tolliver who arranged the bartending job for Brazelton and who helped find him places to live in St. Petersburg during his career.

Tolliver said Brazelton is doing better now that D.J. is the biggest part of his life.

"He's got his act together," she said.

Keesha Graham teaches third grade at Sexton Elementary. She met Brazelton through mutual friends and invited him in 2014 to speak to her class during the Great American Teach-In.

"He's very down-to-earth," Graham said. "The kids gravitate to him."

Brazelton has spoken to Graham's class during the past two years. Last November, after learning about a student from a low-income family who needed clothes, Graham said Brazelton returned to her classroom with a bag filled with some of D.J's old clothes.

Graham wants to start a mentoring program. She wants Brazelton to be part of it.

• • •

Brazelton is a proud product of the Middle Tennessee State baseball team. He is a member of the school's athletic hall of fame. He remains in touch with the coaching staff and former teammates.

He donated $250,000 for the renovation of the baseball stadium. The Dewon Brazelton Alumni Suite is found inside the ballpark.

Brazelton found a picture on his phone of himself and D.J. standing outside the suite on a rug that bears his name.

"I got my own rug, man," Brazelton said. "Who's got their own rug?"

• • •

On July 26, 2010, Brazelton was at Dave & Buster's in Kansas City, Mo., as his career was winding down. On TV, Matt Garza was about to pitch the only no-hitter in Rays history. Several times throughout the game, Brazelton saw his name flash on the screen. Brazelton's 72/3 innings of no-hit ball against the Marlins on June 24, 2004, was the deepest a Rays pitcher had gone without allowing a hit.

Mike Lowell broke up the no-no with a double. Brazelton was removed at that point. He earned the victory and the Rays evened their season record at 35-35, one of the few highlights of the Devil Rays era.

It was also the highlight of Brazelton's career.

Well, that and the game earlier that month when Brazelton, having been recalled from Triple-A Durham that afternoon, came on in relief and struck out Barry Bonds.

After the game Brazelton sent a Rays clubhouse attendant to request that Bonds sign the ball that he swung at for strike three.

"He threw it in a garbage can," Brazelton said.

• • •

After the 2005 season, Brazelton was traded to the Padres for third baseman Sean Burroughs. It was a swap of former first-round picks who had nowhere to go but up.

Brazelton pitched in nine games for the Padres. He was released after the following season and bounced through the Royals, Pirates and Cardinals organizations before pitching for a pair of independent league teams.

By the summer of 2010 his career was over.

"I spent my first two years of retirement beating myself up over it," he said. "But then I had to come to terms with it. That's just life. Things went the way they went.

"I felt very thankful and very fortunate to be where I was and what I did. Did I want to have a 15-year major-league career? Sure. But that's not in the cards for everyone."

• • •

Brazelton won't say anything negative about his time with the Devil Rays.

Would things have been better if he had had someone such as James Shields to show him how to act as a big-leaguer or had been able to work with pitching coach Jim Hickey? Maybe.

Would he have had more success in the majors had he spent more time in the minors? Possibly.

But Brazelton wanted to reach the big leagues as soon as possible and did accept the huge signing bonus. So he said it's hypocritical to complain since he took the money. He does know how fortunate he is to have been a major-leaguer.

D.J.'s favorite player is David Ortiz. It meant the world to Brazelton when his son finally realized that not only did his daddy pitch to David Ortiz, he enjoyed some success against the Red Sox slugger.

"Every dad," Brazelton said, "wants to be his son's hero."

Brazelton said he belongs to a Facebook page for former professional baseball players. As in the real world, only a small percentage of those who joined the page played in the majors. Brazelton knows the ones who didn't would love to have enjoyed even 1 percent of what he accomplished with the Devil Rays.

"You spend one day in the big leagues and you will always be known as former major-leaguers," Brazelton said as he scrolled through his phone for pictures of D.J. "The only thing better than being called a former major-leaguer is someone calling you daddy."

And that is what happened to Dewon Brazelton.

Tampa Bay Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

These days, Dewon Brazelton's happy being a doting dad 07/21/16 [Last modified: Thursday, July 21, 2016 8:46pm]
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