Montgomery—I’m sitting beside Judge Jimmy Pool at a baseball game. He’s wearing a ball cap. We’re talking during the third inning.
“Montgomery’s downtown wasn’t always this alive,” he says. “The downtown used to be dead in the water.”
I remember those days, back when tumbleweed rolled down Coosa Street and shop windows were vacant.
My cousin and I came here long ago to visit some friends. The downtown felt empty. A man wearing a trash bag asked if we had a few bucks. My cousin gave him a five. The man thanked us, then showed us a dandy little knife.
“How about a little more?” the man said.
My cousin gave him the rest of his cash. I gave him all my pocket change, a rubber band, some plastic-wrapped Saltines, and an expired Florida Lotto ticket.
The downtown is very different now. It is hip, and vibrant. The Hank Williams statue stands near the river, overlooking bustling streets and nice barbecue joints. Acoustic music comes from a sidewalk restaurant.
“I can tell you exactly when this town changed,” says Judge Jimmy. “It was when Mayor Bobby Bright said, ‘I’m gonna bring baseball to Montgomery.’”
And so it happened. Fifteen years ago, the quaint stadium became a reality. And that, by God, was that.
Locals voted on a mascot. Lots of choices were offered, but the buttermilk biscuit logo won by a country mile.
“We’re really just a big small town,” says Jimmy. “And the Biscuits bring that out in us, we’re like family at this park, sometimes this stadium is my living room.”
I see what he means. In this small park, I am lost in the bygone era of our grandparents. Maybe it’s the gruff voices of umpires, the smell of stale beer, or the sounds of children laughing.
The food isn’t bad, either. Here they serve Conecuh Sausage. If you’ve never had Conecuh Sausage, you aren’t living right.
In the restroom line I meet Randy and Joe. Randy and Joe are retired military. Though, they didn’t have to tell me this, I saw them saluting during the anthem.
“Yeah,” says Randy, “we come all the time. I don’t watch TV anymore, too much crap, I’d rather see a real game.”
Joe nods. “Yep, and I come along because Randy drinks too much and can’t drive himself home.”
I meet Abby, a young woman who is taking in tonight’s game with friends. They sit behind home plate.
“My brother used to be the mascot for the Biscuits,” Abby says. “I used to go to games for free, those were the days. I practically lived here.”
I meet Rebecca and her son Will. Tonight Will is ALFA Insurance’s Honorary Bat Kid. This means that he threw the first pitch of the game.
“He loves this place more than anything,” says Will’s mother.
Will is busy watching the game, but I ask him for a few words.
“Do you play Little League?” I ask Will.
“Yes,” he says without taking his eyes from the field.
“What position do you play?”
“How long have you been playing first base?”
“Oh, about seven years.”
“That’s a long time, how old are you?”
I meet Harmon. Harmon is seventy-three, with midnight skin, snow-white hair, and a smile that could light up the county.
“Listen,” he explains, “baseball is America, man. My daddy used’a play ball long before I was even a speck. I wish he coulda seen this stadium get put in, he woulda really liked that.”
I shake hands with Tracy, who is here with her elderly father, Charlie. She helps her father hobble toward the bathroom. He holds her arm for support. Charlie is carrying a cane, wearing Velcro shoes.
Charlie says, “Every single time I sit in one of these seats, I feel like I’m five again.”
Charlie is pushing ninety.
Maybe that’s why I come to these games when I’m in town. There’s something about this ballpark.
I’m not from Montgomery, but tonight I feel like I am. Within the last hour, I’ve seen four old friends, one woman I grew up with, an old coworker, a deacon, my mother’s old hairdresser, and the brother one of my close pals.
And don’t forget Judge Jimmy. Tonight I met him, too. Jimmy will potentially become one of Alabama’s oldest active judges.
When the game is over, my wife and I wander outside. It’s dark, but the city is painted with neon colors.
I hear footsteps behind us. An old man walks after me. He’s heading straight for me. He’s walking faster now.
I glance behind me, I’m wondering what he’s doing. He finally catches up with me.
“Excuse me,” the man says. “You dropped this, sir.”
He hands me a twenty-dollar bill and God-blesses me.
In the immortal words of Judge Jimmy Pool: “Baseball brought life back to Montgomery, and you can quote me on that.”
I will, Your Honor. I most certainly, will.