Hall of Famer is down home #039;cuz#039;

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 19, 2003

Not many youngsters can boast of having a cousin who's enshrined at Cooperstown.

Not many youngsters even know the first thing about Cooperstown. But, David and Jason Fleming are not among them. For, they just happen to have a very famous cousin who is a member of Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"Most of my friends don't know who Don Sutton is but I tell them he's a great pitcher and then I can brag about him," David said.

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But, there's no real brag about Don Sutton. It's a fact that he is one of the great pitchers of all time.

And, because he's a native of South Alabama, he had a huge fan following from this area throughout his career.

Sutton was born in Clio but moved with his family to Pensacola when he was six years old. He caught the eyes of professional baseball scouts as a pitcher for Tate High School and later at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City. While at the community college he pitched against Troy State.

His uncle, John Sutton, doesn't remember whether he won the game or not,

"That was a lot time ago and I just don't remember," Sutton said.

But evidently Sutton stacked up enough wins and struck out enough batters for the pros to take notice.

He played Triple A ball for the Los Angeles Dodgers Farm League in 1965 and suited up in the Big Leagues in 1966. After an outstanding 14-year career with the Dodgers, he was traded to the Houston Astros in 1981. He did stints with the Milwaukee, Oakland and California before closing out his career back with the Dodgers in 1986.

After he retired, Sutton went to work for the Atlanta Braves as both a radio and television commentator for Turner Broadcasting.

In 1998, Sutton was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

John Sutton remembers that day in Cooperstown as one of the most exciting days of his life.

"I guess it was for Don, too," he said, laughing. "He flew Lois and me up there to the ceremony. His daddy, Howard, was there and his brother Ron. It was a great day for all of us."

John and Lois Sutton have remained close to the major leaguer over the years and, when he wants to get away from the rat race, he often makes his way to Brundidge.

He came recently to do a little fishing.

"Don had a new fly rod he wanted to try out, but he caught more trees and bushes than he did fish,"Sutton said, laughing. "I told him the next time he came we were going to get him some hickory nuts to fish with."

The Hall of Famer might not have fish striking at his "bait" the way he did batters when he was on the mound, but he still can fire bullets.

"He's really great," David said.

And, he still takes time to show his young cousins the tricks of his trade.

"He told me if I could throw side-armed and with my left hand, to keep on doing it," David said. "So, I'm going to keep doing it."

The first game David pitched after his famous cousin gave him a bag full of tips was a good outing.

He struck out seven on his way to a complete game and a victory.

With Sutton genes and a famous cousin for a coach, one might think that David is priming himself for a career on the mound but he said no.

"I would rather play first base," he said, but added, "I might pitch some, too."

David and Jason are the sons of Mike and Mary John Fleming of Troy.