Escape from Nicaragua
The strange saga of Brant Alyea
By Richard Chesley
COLUMBIA, S.C.--Brant Alyea had not seen his son, Florence Blue Jays outfielder Brant Alyea Jr., for more than 18 years. How he happened to see him again at all is, well, something just like in the movies.
The plot involves a third-world country in the middle of a political revolution, a scout in search of a major league prospect, a bribe and a man who happened to collect baseball cards.
Brant Alyea played Major League Baseball in 1965 and from 1968-72. He is perhaps best remembered for hitting a home run on the first pitch of his first major league at-bat on Sept. 12, 1965, for the Washington Senators--one of a handful of players in history to accomplish that feat.
Alyea also played winter baseball in Nicaragua. He had met a woman there one season, a nurse, and dated her. When the season was over, he returned to his home in New Jersey.
He went back to Nicaragua the next season. Several players met him at the airport and informed Alyea that he had a son.
"A couple of local players told me he had been born," said Alyea from his New Jersey home. "I went over to the house right away. The shame is on the mother in that society for something like this, so I signed papers recognizing that it was my son, and gave her money.
"I saw him every day for three or four months."
Then Alyea had to leave.
"There was no way I could take him. He needed to be with his mother, and there was no way I could get him out of the country.
"I know that's difficult to understand," Alyea continued. "But there was no way I could get him out of there. When I left the country, I had my luggage back at the hotel that I could not get, because they were holding 20 people hostage."
So Alyea was gone. And because of the ongoing Nicaraguan revolution, Nicaragua has been closed to American players ever since.
Over the next 17-plus years, Alyea had to live with the fact that he had a son in Nicaragua, a son he couldn't see.
"You have to understand, we take so many things for granted in this country, we've got it good a lot of ways.
"It was frustrating. But I had no control over it. I had seen people shot in the streets. I saw a tank pull up at a hotel and blow the top off. What was I supposed to do? Even if I did try to go down, I probably would not have been allowed."
So Alyea Wrote. But the mail was intercepted and read, and he knew it. It was frustrating, that feeling only relieved by the belief that he had done all he could do.
Some 18 years later, Alyea is working at the Tropicana Resort in Atlantic City, N.J.
His boss is a big baseball fan, who also collects baseball cards and the like. One day last fall, he tells Alyea that he read a list--originally prepared by Baseball America--of fathers who had sons playing professional baseball. Brant Alyea Jr. is on the list, playing in the Toronto Blue Jays' organization.
Disbelief. Happiness. And then anger.
"I was so happy he had gotten out of the country," Alyea said. But then the anger. Why wasn't he informed that is son was playing baseball in the United States?
"I called Toronto?" Alyea said, only to be told by the Blue Jays that his son was no longer in the United States.
"They didn't have his address. I found that hard to believe.
"I can't understand why they couldn't reach me. I was living here, and my phone is unlisted. Still . . ."
Alyea slowly discovered that his son had caught the eye of Blue Jays scouts when he played for Nicaragua in the World Junior Championships in Canada in 1984. He was the leading hitter in the tournament.
Then, mysteriously, Brant Jr. appeared in Medicine Hat, Alberta, playing for the Blue Jays' Pioneer League affiliate the following year. He compiled a .337 batting average, but remained a mystery. The Blue Jays refused to comment on how they signed him.
The Blue Jays still refuse to discuss Brant Jr. General manager Pat Gillick could not be reached for comment for this story, and calls to the Blue Jays player personnel department went unreturned.
"I just wish somebody would have told me he was in Medicine Hat," Alyea said.
Still, Alyea was happy--happy his son had gotten out of strife-torn Nicaragua. How did the Blue Jays manage that? The story, as he knows it, is right out of a movie.
"They bribed the guy at the airport," Alyea said.
According to Alyea, a visa to Mexico had been arranged for his son, who went to the airport with Blue Jays' Latin American scouting supervisor Epy Guerrero.
The airport official asked Brant Jr. why he wanted to go to Mexico, Alyea said. Brant told the official he was going to visit his mother.
"The official told him 'I don't thing you can go.'" Alyea said. "They offered him the money. "Then he said," 'Go ahead and go, make sure you come back.'"
Alyea said he'd heard that Guerrero passed the official $3,000.
According to Alyea, the intrigue turned to comic relief when Guerrero and Brant Jr. arrived in Mexico City. At the airport, Guerrero met a White Sox scout. Guerrero asked him what he was doing there, and the scout said he was on his way to sign Brant Alyea.
"Here he is," Guerrero said. "Shake his hand."
Brant Jr. who speaks no English, played the 1985 season at Medicine Hat, then went to Venezuela--where his mother actually lives--to play winter ball.
That's about the time, Alyea said, he discovered his son had signed a free agent contract with the Blue Jays.
He had to wait even longer to finally see his son. The opportunity came during spring training this year, when Alyea went down to Florida.
What was their first meeting like?
"You don't know what you're going to say until it happens," Alyea said. "I drove up and I saw him with some friends of his. He looked a lot like me. He said, 'Brant?' I said, 'Yeah.' He really looked like I did.
"I told him how pleased I was to see him. I tried to tune in to his problems as quick as I could. He only had 50 cents in his pocket so I took him out to eat."
Alyea also told Brant Jr. that he always had a place to stay and not to worry.
"He was afraid at Medicine Hat of being sent back to Nicaragua (explaining why he didn't make early season road trips into the U.S., since Canada has diplomatic relations with Nicaragua). He didn't know anyone, and he didn't speak English. He thought if he didn't play well they would send him back."
But he played well, and now son and father are happy to have the chance to be together. Alyea even things his son has a better chance with an organization like the Blue Jays, with their emphasis on Latin talent.
"First, he's playing with a lot of Latin players, and has a Latin manager. It's not as foreign as it could be.
"Second, Brant has been through so much adversity, and he overcame it. I see nothing but good things for him now."
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