HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
“Mudcat” Grant Recalls Lacoochee Days
This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on April 9, 1989.
By BRYANNA LATOOF
LACOOCHEE — In the darkened Lacoochee theater, where spectators basked in the glow of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry flicks, Jim “Mudcat” Grant was in his glory.
He and other children growing up in Lacoochee couldn’t wait for the weekend serials — the horses, the Indians and wild chases through vast deserts — that offered a respite from the stark reality outside.
The only adventure that topped the show was the trek to the theater itself.
“We had to go through the white area and down by the railroad depot and we always encountered them. The white kids would hit us upside the head all the way to the movie. As soon as we were on that side of the track, there wasn’t much we could do.
“But when they’d come on our side to sell fruits and rabbits, we’d duke them too. I remember that very distinctly,” said Grant, who grew up to become a famous baseball pitcher who garnered various honors during his career.
Grant, a retired player who owns the Black Golfers Association Tournaments, a professional black golf tour based in Los Angeles, frequently visits his family and friends in this rural Pasco community just north of Dade City. He recalls with fondness his childhood days spent growing up in Lacoochee.
“My life as a boy there in those days, we were really poor. Like not having any shoes until you were somewhere around 9-years-old. We went barefoot to school.
“I remember the teachings of my mother and the concept of survival as a little boy . . . despite the fact that it was as bad as it was in terms of not having electric lights or a bathtub. We didn’t even know anything about bathtubs then,” he said.
Mudcat — so dubbed by fellow players — often went to the Withlacoochee River to catch fish or hunt wild game to put something on the table.
Grant, along with his twin sister, Johnnie Mae, and his brother Julious, grew up never really knowing their father James Grant Sr., who died from pneumonia when his children were young.
“He was a lumber mill man like everybody else at the time. I remember what he stood for, because every time I got in trouble there was a peach switch, the kind that didn’t break.
Of all Grant’s memories, the weekend movies he saw made some of the most lasting impressions.
“We went to the theater on Saturdays and sometimes on Sunday. It cost 9 cents. I used to remember all of the Gene Autry and Roy Rogers serials. Serials were big in those days. We used to keep up with them,” he said.
It was an even bigger thrill when, years later as a professional baseball player, he got to personally know Gene Autry, the current owner of the California Angels.
“Every time I go to Angel Stadium, Gene comes through and we get a chance to speak,” said Grant. “The first thing he says is: How is everything in Lacoochee?”