Suns owner Peter Bragan Sr., 89, dies
Bragan, who turned 89 last week, passed away from heart failure at Memorial Hospital.
Bragan was hospitalized a week ago with a urinary infection and was unable to attend the Suns game on Tuesday night when over 11,000 people turned out for his birthday, the game and a fireworks show afterward.
“I will miss him terribly,” his son and Suns president, Peter Bragan Jr., told the Times-Union on Saturday night. “I thought I would be going to the hospital this weekend to bring him home. He’s had some trouble breathing the last couple of days but we thought he would be able to come home soon.
“He had some congestion in his lungs and it just got to be too much for his old heart. He flat-lined three times but they were able to bring him back each time. He was a fighter.”
Bragan Sr. was a baseball icon in the city. He befriended everyone who would stop at his permanent seat on the mezzanine level behind home plate. He affectionately called everyone “buddy,” often forgetting people’s names, but greeted people with a bellowing “hey buddy” that made people feel he was their best friend.
That’s the way Bragan ran the baseball team. He wanted it to be a family atmosphere where people would bring their kids to the game. It’s one of the reasons why the Bragan family constructed so many activities for kids beyond the outfield walls.
Bragan was a successful car dealer in Birmingham, Ala., when the opportunity arose in 1984 to purchase the minor league team in Jacksonville. The plan was to buy the team, turn it into a winning franchise and sell the team several years later at a profit.
The first part of the plan worked out well. The Suns put together a strong team in 1989, with a dozen players who would go on to play in the major leagues. The timing was right to sell, but Bragan never did.
“Hell no, I wasn’t going to sell the team,” was his reply when buyers came to him with offers. “I’m having too much fun. We’re staying here.”
And stay they did. In 2009 the Bragans celebrated their 25th anniversary as team owners by winning their third Southern League championship in a decade.
“That was a great way to celebrate our 25 years of being here in the city,” Bragan said a year ago in an interview. “I’m just so glad we could do that for the people of Jacksonville. They’ve been great to come out and support us all these years.”
The Suns were only moderately successful drawing fans when the team played in aging Wolfson Park. Bragan worked closely with Mayor John Delaney to have a new ballpark built as part of the Better Jacksonville Plan in 2003. The new stadium, the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, helped the Suns lead the Southern League in attendance for the past nine years.
Bragan dealt with several other Jacksonville mayors as well, including Jake Godbold when Bragan first bought the franchise.
“When the Bragans took over that franchise, it was in failing health, but they stuck in there and did a good job in fixing things up and turning it into a fun place to watch a baseball game,” Godbold said recently. “Senior was tough to deal with sometimes. He was a growler and a griper. You just had to give it right back to him.
“But over the years, you learned to love the guy. There was a mutual respect for each other.”
While “Senior,” as so many people referred to the elder Bragan, built the Suns into a successful organization, his son “Pedro” was always at his father’s side, generally running the day-to-day operations. They worked closely together, sat next to each other at nearly every home game, and could often be spotted in the skydeck area about an hour before the game enjoying a cigar together and sharing baseball stories.
“I can’t even express how I feel in losing him,” Pedro Bragan said. “He was my partner with the Suns for 28 years. We ran the Suns, we did everything together. There’s just a big void there right now.
“Daddy was liked by everyone. He was a warm, genuine person, always ready to greet you and ask how you were doing. No question, baseball was his life and the Jacksonville Suns were his life these last 28 years.”
Bragan said there will likely be a memorial service early this week at the Baseball Grounds so his many friends could come and pay their respects. The body will then be taken to Birmingham where he’ll be buried later in the week.
The Suns won consecutive Southern League titles in 2009-2010, and the two Bragans were named Minor League Executives of the Year in 2004.
Bragan is survived by his wife of 69 years, Mary Frances. He was part of a family of baseball brothers that included Bobby, Jimmy, Frank and Lionel.