MARC TOPKIN and DAMIAN CRISTODERO
The Rays starter discusses the family problems that have affected his play and led to a mysterious midseason absence.
ST. PETERSBURG - A bitter legal battle over visitation rights to his 19-month-old son is responsible for Devil Rays pitcher Dewon Brazelton's disappointing season and was a factor in his mysterious three-week midseason absence.
"This should have been the best year of my life," Brazelton said, "but it's turned into a nightmare because of this."
Court documents filed by the mother, Elizabeth Boyce, include claims of violent threats by Brazelton, four temporary restraining orders issued against him and a scheduled October hearing that includes a request he undergo a psychological evaluation.
Brazelton, 25, said he did nothing wrong and that Boyce, 23, of Orlando is trying to take advantage of his status as a professional athlete to get money. He said he expects the courts to eventually rule in his favor.
In the meantime, he is struggling through a season that began with him making the opening-day start but has gone so poorly that he could end up being dumped by the Rays, four years after they guaranteed him $4.8-million as the No. 3 pick in the 2001 draft. He is 1-8 with a 7.40 ERA, has been demoted to the minors twice and is relegated to long relief.
"Everything started with this," he said quietly last week in the Rays clubhouse. "This is the only problem in my life, but it's a big problem because I love my son so much. Believe me, once this is over with, I'll be back to being the pitcher I can be and I should be, whether it's here with the Devil Rays or wherever."
Among the court filings is a claim by Boyce that Brazelton in July "threatened to kill the mother and told the mother he wished both the mother and the minor child were dead."
Brazelton said the claim is untrue and that he has made no threats against Boyce or their son, though he admitted to engaging in mutual threats over the phone with Boyce's father.
"I've never threatened any physical violence or harm to her or against her, and definitely not against my child," Brazelton said. "It's a sick situation. She's wrong, she's dead wrong for what she's trying to do."
But Boyce's lawyer, Andrea Black, said Brazelton's emotional stability is a concern.
"I have concerns about this young man, seriously," Black said, "and my client has concerns about this young man's emotional stability because of all the things that have happened, including the problems of going to the minors and including the problems we have encountered in our regular controversies in court."
There have been numerous filings, including charges and countercharges, in the Ninth Judicial Court in Orange County, with the next step a scheduled Oct. 17 hearing.
Among the issues before the court are whether to make permanent the temporary restraining orders that Boyce, her parents, sister and brother-in-law have against Brazelton; a petition for Brazelton to undergo a psychological evaluation to see if he can continue unsupervised visits with his son; and Boyce's unusual request to remove the court-assigned parent coordinator, Nancy Witt, because she claims Witt has been "biased and prejudiced" in Brazelton's favor.
Brazelton said he is looking forward to the opportunity to tell his side of the story and expects the court to grant his request to enforce visitation or even award him custody. He is paying $4,150 a month in child support and said he has followed all rules.
"If justice is served, she'll come out on the bottom of this, not me, because I've done nothing wrong and she has," he said. "All I want to do is see my son and they're preventing me from doing that by using the legal system."
Brazelton met Boyce in spring 2002 as he began his pro career with the Rays' Double-A affiliate in Orlando, and they dated for more than a year. He said the relationship had cooled by the time Dewon II was born in March 2004, though they tried - unsuccessfully - to work things out last year.
The legal wrangling began shortly after the start of this season and its effects seem obvious. Brazelton was 1-7 with a 6.43 ERA when the Rays demoted him to Triple-A Durham on May 11, then refused to report and his whereabouts were a mystery for the next three weeks. He offered vague answers and no explanation when he returned in early June, sparking numerous rumors.
Brazelton still won't go into specifics, but acknowledged that the visitation issue was a key factor in his disappearance and his inconsistent performance since returning.
"I don't want people to say, "He's a bad player because he brings his personal life home,' but it's been difficult. ... " he said. "That's what's been going on. Nobody's in my shoes. My kid means more to me than any of this (stuff). I'll tell (Rays general manager) Chuck LaMar that to his face. My son is more important to me than any of this, more important than this uniform. Only a person with a kid would understand what I'm going through.
"... It's impossible when you love something as much as I love my son."
There are obvious signs of Brazelton's feelings for his son, including a tattoo on his left arm of the boy's face with the words "God Send" underneath and images on his cell phone of their Aug. 30 visit, the first time they had been together in about 10 weeks, he said.
Brazelton said the matter is so private he has refused to talk about it with anybody, including teammates, and did so reluctantly after being approached by the Times. LaMar said team officials have been aware Brazelton faced some legal issues. Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez said the staff suspected "something was up and something wasn't right," but that Brazelton has mental and mechanical issues to deal with if he wants to be successful.
"It's affected everything," Brazelton said. "This is very personal (stuff) and it hurts. I'm sick to my stomach just talking to you about it. It makes me want to cry."
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.