Southern League

“You move on with your life,” he says. “You realize that you still got a lotta time left to live, you can't just give up.”

Montgomery, Alabama—the top of the ninth inning. The Montgomery Biscuits are finishing off the Jackson Generals.

This is minor-league baseball at its best. I’m eating a foot-long Conecuh Quick Freeze sausage on a bun. The beer is bath-water warm. I am sweating.

The last Biscuits game I attended was twelve years ago, when they were still new to Montgomery. I was sitting on the other side of the stadium with my cousin. The Biscuits lost that night.

But they are winning tonight. The man behind me is not surprised.

He’s white-haired. There is a bag of popcorn in his lap. He doesn’t move much, he’s past the age of unnecessary movements.

His name is Paul. He lives outside Montgomery, he’s been coming to games since 2005. He comes as often as he can. He wears a butter-yellow team cap, thick glasses. He looks like he forgot to shave this week.

“I love my Biscuits,” says Paul. “Them players are just kids, but they good players. Gotta good coach, too.”

That’s why he’s here. He loves the game. It’s in his blood.

“When my son was just a baby,” said Paul, “he liked baseball right away. I knew he was the real deal.”

Paul started working with his son during grade school and middle school. It was your typical Great American childhood. Games of catch at sunset. Homemade batting cages in the backyard—constructed from chicken-wire fencing.

“My son was a good pitcher,” said Paul. “Good, good pitcher.”

Good.

Major League scouts were at his son’s games during his sophomore year. By his junior year, Paul was getting phone calls.

“Had one scout tell me, ‘Make sure you keep that arm healthy and de-inflamed.’ So I’d ice his arm down after every game.”

A drunk driver killed his son during his senior year.

His son was on his way home from a friend’s house. A two-lane highway. A woman driving a Bronco was traveling the wrong direction in the wrong lane. She hit him head-on.

The Biscuits hit a homerun. Tonight’s small crowd goes crazy.

“You move on with your life,” he says. “You realize that you still got a lotta time left to live, you can’t just give up.”

So Paul began rooting for minor-league ball. Not only for love of the game, but for the young men with wide eyes, who’d been plucked from high school oblivion. Who needed a proud daddy in the stands.

When Montgomery welcomed the Biscuits to town, Paul was there. When Riverwalk Stadium was home to players like David Price, Wade Davis, Evan Longoria, and Alex Torres, Paul was doling out atta-boys.

When the Biscuits won the Southern League Championship two years in a row, he felt proud. He’s a man who leans over the railing and shakes hands with young men. Young men who look like boys he once knew. He’s proud of them.

“Them boys need someone to believe in them,” he said. “Shoot, we all need someone to believe in us. I just think that’s important, you know?”

As it happens, I do.

And I believe in you, Paul.

Biscuits win. 9-4.

21 comments

  1. Buck reuter - August 15, 2017 12:17 pm

    Sean,

    I read you everyday and love your work. This morning I shared Southern League from your email to Facebook from my iPad and it was posted to my Moms timeline on Facebook. How is that possible ???

    Thank You and I love your work!!!

    Bucky Reuter

    Reply
    • M Paine - August 15, 2017 12:36 pm

      And your comment shows posted 8/15/2017 at 12:17pm; as I type this it’s 8/15/2017 7:30am CST. How is this possible?

      Reply
  2. Donna Holifield - August 15, 2017 12:24 pm

    ❤️

    Reply
  3. Cathi Russell - August 15, 2017 12:36 pm

    Thanks Paul! And thank you Sean for telling his story!

    Reply
  4. Nancy Futral - August 15, 2017 12:44 pm

    I was touched by this. I lost my son last September. Different circumstances. But I “get” what he is doing. I know what he lost. I am enjoying your writing.

    Reply
  5. Catherine - August 15, 2017 12:57 pm

    I love baseball, especially minor league, a gift from my Daddy. I love this story. Thanks to Paul for giving these boys someone to root for them.

    Reply
  6. Gayle Dawkins - August 15, 2017 1:05 pm

    Great story Sean.

    Reply
  7. Steven Saunders - August 15, 2017 1:38 pm

    Love the story Sean. Love Baseball, dogs and Chevy trucks too. I mourn for Paul, his happy years stolen by a drunk……Geaux Biscuits!

    Reply
  8. John Lewis - August 15, 2017 2:35 pm

    When I open my email each day, I search for your email first. Minor league baseball is a fun game to watch. I remember taking Mr. Bennett, the neighbor across the street from my wife’s parents to watch the Johnson City Cardinals, a team in the rookie Appalachian League. Mr. Bennett was a good friend of my Grandfather who was an engineer on the old Tweetsie Railroad that operated in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

    At one time I believe that players in that league only got one year to prove themselves. No airplane rides. No fancy 5 star hotels on road games. It was either a move up or move out situation. Perform well and they got promoted to an A league somewhere. Mr. Bennett loved those rookie players because they knew what was at stake and they gave 100% every game. I came to love taking Mr. Bennett to those games just as much as he loved watching them.

    Reply
  9. Bill Wilhelm - August 15, 2017 3:07 pm

    I was a fairly good catcher (they once were called hind catchers…LOL) who could get a single occasionally that most people could make a double or triple out of it. Slow is not even close. My coach joked (maybe?) that I would need to hit a home run in order to get a single. We were all baseball crazy. Hall-of-Famer Hoyt Wilhelm was my cousin, but the real talent stopped with him. Thank you, Sean, for reminding me (us) of some of the wonderful memories.

    Reply
  10. Peter - August 15, 2017 4:41 pm

    Sean,
    Thank you for the pure nostalgia, and the complete love of the game! So pure and undisturbed by the rest of life.
    Great job! Keep it up.

    Reply
  11. Jack Quanstrum - August 15, 2017 5:30 pm

    Great story, Sean. It brings to mind my days at Wrigley Field in the 50s and 60s with my mom on ladies day which was free every Tuesday they where in town. Even though I grew up in big and tough city. ( I had to fight to survive ) those days seemed so much simpler and pure then now. I love the deep south and living here in Crimson country. Love the Florida pan handle. I can remember listening to Country music on Chicago’s only am station that was on a old radio with tubes in it. Transistor Radios had not been invented yet. And Pulling for Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide on ABC Saturday afternoons never knowing I would be living down here the last 40 years. The south has always been in my spirit and soul. I can remember my favorite TV show. The Rebel, staring Johnny Huma. Let me stop for now. Sean thank you for stimulating my childhood memories. I will sign off with, When things seemed innocent and pure. Shalom.

    Reply
  12. Thressa - August 15, 2017 6:31 pm

    I enjoyed your inspiring story about Paul! We should all do our part to make this a better day for someone. Even if Paul is at an age of minimal movement, he is still strong in spirit!
    Thank you, Paul!

    Reply
  13. Debbie Galladora - August 15, 2017 7:14 pm

    My Dad played for the Atlanta Crackers…

    Reply
  14. Trudy :) - August 15, 2017 9:02 pm

    Without someone believing in us, we won’t be as good as we can be; we won’t have the strong drive and hope of becoming better or the best. Sometimes that someone believing in you is yourself. Thank you, Sean, for another something to think about and pass on.

    Reply
  15. Kim - August 15, 2017 11:16 pm

    I’m not crying. You’re crying. Go Biscuits!

    Reply
  16. Leah Lloyd - August 16, 2017 2:06 am

    Thank you. That was nice.

    Reply
  17. Sandi - August 16, 2017 8:30 pm

    Sean, I realize this post is about baseball, but the part that stood out to me is the fact that Paul lost his only son to a drunk driver at a young age. My only brother was also killed by a drunk driver when he was just 37.
    When something negative happens like that so suddenly, those of us left grieving have to learn to focus on something positive. I’m sincerely glad to know that Paul did just that.

    Reply
  18. Lucretia - August 18, 2017 6:21 am

    I am thankful tonight for a Paul and a Sean. May God bless you both.

    Reply
  19. Pamela McEachern - August 18, 2017 8:07 am

    I love your inspiration and am in awe of Paul. He is a man that just makes you want to be a better person. Thank you Sean and Paul, ya’ll make a good team!!

    Reply
  20. Wendy - August 19, 2017 7:15 am

    Maybe that’s where my physical problems began…sitting on wooden bleachers at Rickwood Field watching the Birmingham Barons play before the “fancy” stadium was built in Hoover, AL.

    Reply

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