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Flannery Comes of Age : Surviving Personal Trials Has Helped Him to Mature

Times Staff Writer

“Never knock someone down to help yourself. Have it because you’ve earned it."--Ragon Flannery So Tim Flannery is not overjoyed. He is the San Diego Padre second baseman by default, because of Alan Wiggins’ faults. He hasn’t earned it.

Naturally, he is glad to be playing, only because he had big dreams once. When he was a minor and a minor leaguer, he had planned to be an all-star, the next Pete Rose. Back then, if he’d go hitless, he’d be obnoxious. Fortunately, he grew out of that.

And Tim Flannery has instead gone on to be what Ragon Flannery, his father, wanted him to be, a man who has his priorities in correct order. It was no easy evolution, one that dealt with death, near-death, grief, birth and re-birth. But now Tim Flannery is the father of a two-week-old child and is completely ready to preach to his own son, Daniel.

“I named him Daniel from reading the Scriptures,” he said. “I studied them a lot, and Daniel was the guy I liked. He dared to stand alone. He was thrown into the Lion’s den because he didn’t do what everyone told him to do. He did what he wanted.

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“And that’s what I want my kid to do. He’ll be growing up in a hard time.”

The evolution of Tim Flannery began with the evolution of Ragon Flannery, who grew up living with his grandmother in the hills of Kentucky. His grandmother would beg him to be a preacher, just as her father had been.

And later, when World War II ended, Ragon had taken a post-military placement test, finding out he really had been suited for the ministry. So he carried on.

Eventually, he ended up in Tulsa, Okla., where he was part of a small congregation there called the East Tulsa Christian Church. Several years later, Ragon took his family to Oregon and later to Southern California. This is where Tim Flannery came in.

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And young Flannery was raised around the church and around baseball. From the time he was two, he always sat in front of the television set watching baseball, not understanding the game, but understanding its appeal. He had seen that his mom’s brother, Hal Smith, was a professional baseball player, a catcher on the 1960 world champion Pittsburgh Pirates. And he wanted to be a catcher, too.

Once, Flannery went with his father and his father’s father-in-law, Earl Smith, to a sporting goods store. Flannery, no more than four years old, saw a catcher’s mask and cried for it. Ragon, on a minister’s salary, couldn’t afford it, but Smith bought it and placed it on the youngster’s head, which immediately bent to one side since the mask was so heavy.

Flannery would go home then and watch more television, crying when ballgames were over or during commercials. He’d hear the national anthem and tell Ragon: “That’s the baseball song, dad.” And one of the saddest days of his life was when his kindergarten teacher told him the baseball song wasn’t really the baseball song.

Neighbors would watch Flannery play, see his energy. He built a whiffle ball field in his back yard, equipped with a pitcher’s mound and chicken wire backstop. He would pound dry wall material with a hammer, crushing it into chalk. His field had to have lines.

“That’s why I’m always on the ground (during games),” he says now. “I used to be a grounds crew.”

And these neighbors would talk to each other about Flannery, saying he’d burn out by high school. But he never did primarily because of his mother, Joyce, whom he says is the family motivator.

She always said he could do it, he could do it. On the family refrigerator was the phrase: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This was her idea.

And religion was at times a burden, although it later became an inspiration. When you’re the preacher’s son, you have a different role in life and must be perceived as a role model. Ragon Flannery had to be strict with his four children.

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“If we got out of line, we got backhanded,” Flannery said. “We were preacher’s kids. If a preacher can’t handle his kids, how can he handle a congregation?”

Greg Flannery, the oldest son who has been a large inspiration to Tim, said of their childhood: “As a preacher’s kid, you had to have a smile on your face. You have to deal with that, too, changing back and forth, shining when it’s expected of you.”

But Ragon Flannery always would shine. In school, Flannery would hear of classmates who had sick parents. Flannery promised them that he’d send his dad over to comfort their families. Many times, Ragon was called in the middle of the night, to talk people out of suicide. Flannery would come home from baseball games and find an empty refrigerator, for Ragon had brought all their food to a less fortunate family.

Inevitably, this would rub off on all members of family. Although this story has not been confirmed, Tim reportedly saw some transients wandering near his home in San Diego this last Christmas. And he supposedly gave them money, urging them to go to a hotel for the holidays.

Flannery changed for good in 1981 when he learned Greg had cancer. Being the oldest, Greg had carried an aura with him, an aura of invincibility. And Flannery was understandably distressed by the news.

But, together, they would fight it. They recalled their days at Anaheim High School, where they thought nothing could be worse than two-a-day football practices. So even cancer wouldn’t be that bad. This was their attitude.

Said Greg: “Once he (Tim) found out, regardless of what he was doing, that wasn’t his priority anymore. It was what could he do for me.”

Greg took radiation treatments and survived this disease. He was told there was a 95% chance that it would never appear again, but in 1982, it did come back.

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“The second time was rougher on Timmy,” Greg said. " . . . It shook everyone up.”

This time Greg could not undergo radiation, for he’d been through the legal limits already. Instead, there was chemotherapy. Flannery often took Greg to his chemotherapy treatments and would be there when Greg later vomited.

But, just like two-a-days, it ended. To this day, Greg is in remission, most likely permanently, and is a detective in the Montclair Police Department.

“He’s the hero of the family,” Flannery said.

But then Joyce became ill. Many times, the Flannery’s would entertain missionaries who came from all over the world, and it is thought that she contracted a disease from one of them. A fungus developed inside her lung. She had to have it removed.

Ragon said she was not expected to survive it, and Flannery learned of this, too. He had been playing minor league baseball in Hawaii at the time, but called daily. He’d talk to his grandmother, Ruth Smith, for example.

“He’d say: ‘Grandma, you think she’ll be all right,” Ruth Smith said. “He’s so sensitive to the hurts of other people.”

Joyce Flannery recovered.

But then Ragon became ill. The stress from Greg’s and Joyce’s health problems damaged his heart, and he spent time in an intensive care unit.

Flannery found it hard to play baseball, too. Ragon had been the president of the Chapman College booster’s club, where Tim had played college baseball. Ragon had cut sermons short, just so he could watch Tim play. And now this.

But Ragon Flannery recovered.

But then Earl became ill. He was an old man, which made it understandable, but it was hard to understand nonetheless.

Earl Smith had been Flannery’s baseball adviser, the one to explain why he should take an extra base sometimes, why he was in a slump sometimes. Earl had grown up in the small town of West Frankfort, Ill. He played sandlot ball there, and raised two sons who would play in the major leagues, Hal and George Smith.

Last October, Earl was there to see Tim in the World Series, which meant his son and grandson had made it to the Fall Classic. That was Earl’s highlight, Flannery said. On Feb. 15th, he passed away.

Again, Flannery suffered over this, for it’s common thought that he was most like his grandfather. They were both happy-go-lucky types. Flannery, for instance, loves to surf, but now has a no-surf clause in his contract (ordered by the Padres) so he can’t injure himself.

Said Flannery: “How do I resist it (surfing)? I won’t say I always resist it. My contract is nullified if I get hurt, so I don’t get hurt. Or I don’t go out when it’s dangerous.

“But surfing helps me relax. It’s like going to see a psychiatrist.”

Flannery also is the type of player who will be hit by a pitch on purpose. In high school, he’d been taught how to do it by his coach, a coach who rewarded his battered players with free milkshakes.

Earl had been loony like that.

And then he was gone.

Flannery, in tribute, made his son’s full name Daniel Earl Flannery.

So Flannery is not overjoyed.

He is, however, quite content with the role of utility infielder for now, partly because he’s because his family’s pains have helped him mature and partly because veteran Padre teammates such as Graig Nettles have helped him mature.

“And I don’t consider myself an every-day second baseman,” he said. “What happens a week from now is out of my hands. On this club, I’m a utility player. What they want me to do, I’ll do . . . Sure, I want to play every day, and I could on a lot of clubs. But I’ve accepted it.”

“Remember: You’re as good as anyone else, but never think you’re better."--Ragon Flannery.


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