Montgomery

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.”

They laugh.

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?”

“First.”

“How long have you been playing first base?”

“Oh, about seven years.”

“That’s a long time, how old are you?”

“Six.”

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.

12 comments

  1. Cathi - April 12, 2019 8:32 am

    Yes, we love our Montgomery Biscuits! The only people I know that don’t love the Biscuits are my dogs, Annie & Barney. This is only because on very humid nights they can hear the fireworks from downtown and always deduce we are under
    attack from incoming direct fire. Bassets are not fond of direct fire and react with direct “fire” of their own. It rapidly becomes very pungent inside my house. Life with Basset Hounds is never dull…or without smells. You know, like Thelma Lou, only lower to the ground. 😉

    Reply
    • Elizabeth - April 12, 2019 10:12 am

      That’s awesome!

      Reply
  2. Elizabeth - April 12, 2019 10:13 am

    We love minor league baseball. Might have to make a road trip to Montgomery!

    Reply
  3. DON PERRY - April 12, 2019 10:28 am

    If you like baseball and ballparks please attend this game at the oldest ballpark in AMERICA !!!!!! https://www.milb.com/birmingham/news/the-rickwood-classic-is-back/c-267463142

    Reply
  4. Nancy - April 12, 2019 10:51 am

    Thanks for this post, Sean! I worked in Montgomery in the early 80’s. I was downtown every day, and it was dead! The area was beautiful, but the stores were gone and it was a sad place. So, I am very happy to learn that it has been revitalized! Go Biscuits!

    Reply
  5. Naomi - April 12, 2019 11:59 am

    I went to Ramsay High School in Birmingham, Alabama, from 1958-1962. Every year our football team would play Sidney Lanier HS in Montgomery. The school would charter two buses to take us to Montgomery. When I graduated from college, I went to work for the federal government and went to Montgomery on business quite often. That was a very long time ago but, other than high school football, I don’t remember anything exciting going on there.

    Reply
  6. mfontaine2017 - April 12, 2019 12:35 pm

    Thanks for the nice article. I remember when the Rebels played at Patterson Field. Baseball in Montgomery had come a long way since then.

    Reply
  7. Shelton A. - April 12, 2019 12:48 pm

    Then you’d like the park where our Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp play. Nice place…good food, good baseball.

    Reply
  8. Pat - April 12, 2019 2:29 pm

    Loved the line about the little boy who says he has played little league baseball about “seven years”, but was only six years old! I was born and raised in Montgomery and I’m very happy to see the changes in downtown!

    Reply
  9. Jack Darnell - April 12, 2019 3:10 pm

    I did enjoy the post. It was definitely a good read, but, BUT ‘The Biscuits?’ Are you serious?

    Anyway Mongomery holds good and bad memories, the bad was in the past few months We blew our diesel engine just east of the city. cost the price of a new car to fix it. But Biscuits? Y’all ain’t right!
    Sherry & jack

    Reply
  10. Charaleen Wright - April 13, 2019 3:58 am

    Reply
  11. Estelle Sexton Davis - April 18, 2019 9:33 pm

    Memories 🥰

    Reply

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