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02/24/09 10:00 PM EST

Longtime bus driver Garvey dies

Dodgers great's father drove team around during Spring Training

PHOENIX -- The man who drove the Dodgers' team bus up and down the Florida Turnpike for 25 Spring Trainings passed away over the weekend.

"We were kidding Saturday," said Steve Garvey, "that Dad was picking up the Dodgers again, only when he opened the bus door, it was Hodges and Furillo and Campanella and Jackie getting on instead of Loney and Kemp. We got a big laugh out of that one."

Joe Garvey died of complications from Parkinson's Disease and diabetes. He was 81, and former Dodgers star Steve Garvey said his father had been in declining health for the last year. He will be entombed Thursday at Riverside National Cemetery.

"He was a big, strong man -- 6-3 and 250 pounds -- but he had gotten down to about 180 at the end," said Garvey. "Big Joe is in God's hands now. We're very sad we lost him, but that much stronger for having had him with us and happy he's now in heaven."

Joe Garvey was a Greyhound Bus driver, transplanted from his native Long Island, N.Y., to Tampa, Fla., whose Dodgers Vero Beach assignment lasted from 1956 to 1981. That first spring, Joe suggested his 9-year-old son skip school and join him for a father-and-son day at the rolling "office," picking up the Dodgers at Tampa Airport and bussing them to Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg for a game against the Yankees.

That was when, as they boarded his father's bus, Steve Garvey met the Boys of Summer -- Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Jim Gilliam, Carl Erskine and Walt Alston, who would later manage Garvey.

Garvey became the bat boy, a role he'd fill the next six springs. Ultimately, he not only turned every kid's dream of being a big leaguer into reality, but did it with the team his dad drove around. As Steve Garvey chronicled in his book, "My Bat Boy Days," it all started through the opportunity provided by his bus-driver father.

"He loved the game," Garvey said of his father. "He listened to whatever powerful radio station he could get and tune into Dodger games. Then when more of our games would be televised, he would watch and tell me what I was doing wrong. He was my personal coach. He retired in 1984 and moved to San Diego, then to Murietta and he would love to watch my kids play. He would go to Lake Elsinore Storm games and eventually became an usher and greeter there for six years.

"When I lecture, I talk about my parents' philosophy about fulfilling the commitments you make. If you start something, finish it. I learned from that. He said to always give 100 percent. I think I learned well from him. He was a very honest, hard-working gentleman. He was soft-spoken and he loved sports."

Garvey requested that donations in his father's memory be made to Youth Baseball of Palm Desert, c/o Steve Garvey, Dodger Stadium.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.