Montgomery. It’s evening. Riverwalk Stadium is thumping. Tonight is a big night for the Montgomery Biscuits minor league team. Half the town is here.
The Biscuits are squaring off against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in the Southern League playoffs. No hand is beerless.
I approach the stadium gates with a blind dog. Marigold the blind coonhound stands beside me, on a leash. Her nose is lightly pressed against my calf as we walk, so she can follow me. I am her Seeing Eye human.
Marigold has been accompanying me everywhere I go lately. She’s still sort of a puppy, and she needs a lot of help.
Her left eye is missing because her last owner took a blunt object to her face. Marigold was garbage to him.
Well, it’s too bad her abuser can’t see her tonight. Because tonight, Marigold is Queen of Montgomery.
Riverwalk Park has made special allowance for Marigold to be here. They’ve pulled out all the stops for her arrival. They rolled out the proverbial red carpet for her. A county judge is waiting by the gate to welcome her. Jay, the Biscuits’ front office guy is there, too.
“I feel like I know this dog already,” says Jay. “She’s famous.”
So management is making a big fuss over Marigold. People snap her photo. Staff employees treat her like a member of the Royal family. All that’s missing is her tiara.
Park employees are letting Marigold smell them. They speak sweetly to her. Ashley, who oversees retail operations doles out affection by the metric ton. “Who’s a sweet baby?” says Ashley.
It isn’t long before employees are trying to locate official Biscuits paraphernalia for Marigold to wear. In a way, it feels as though Marigold is the unofficial team mascot of the evening.
So we’re having a large night. Riverwalk Park is a loud place. Lots of sounds. Lots of smells. The crowd is screaming. There is pulsating music. Countless eruptions of cheering. Marigold is unsure about all this stimulation. But she’s hanging in there.
She is swarmed by gaggles of new admirers. Most of them are teenagers. They treat Marigold the way people once treated Elvis. They shower her with attention. At one point, I count nine hands simultaneously petting Marigold’s black-and-tan coat at once.
After the first pitch, Marigold and I visit a vendor. I get beer. She gets a hotdog. The woman working behind the hotdog stand wants her picture made with Marigold.
“She’s blind?” the woman says.
“Like, blind blind?”
The woman presses her nose to Marigold’s face. Marigold uses her nose to see the woman. The woman begins to weep.
“I love you, Marigold,” she whispers.
Soon, we are in our seats. We are seated just off the third-base line. It’s a good game. Third inning. The Biscuits are up by one. Marigold is still trying to adjust to all the attention. It’s hard being a mascot.
She sits in one of the vacant seats behind me. April, a former veterinary tech, is now holding Marigold in her lap. She feeds Marigold smatterings of nachos and other treats.
April is like Marigold’s PR person. If anyone wants access to Marigold, they have to go through April.
By the end of the sixth inning, Marigold is growing restless. There are a lot of smells here and she’d like to know what, precisely, they are. So we go exploring.
Marigold wanders between the aisles, making friends.
A little boy with Down syndrome sees Marigold pass by and shouts. “Can I pet your dog?!” Marigold is overjoyed to be loved by this boy. She gives as much as she gets.
A little girl with braided locks and beads in her hair lets Marigold give her a facial. “I want to keep this dog,” says the girl.
A young man dressed in a police uniform asks to get his picture made with her. “Who’s a sweet baby?” he says.
A flock of elderly women approach Marigold. Two old women sit cross-legged on the bare, sticky floor. They pet Marigold within an inch of her life. I’m surprised Marigold has any fur left.
Another older man asks to pet her. He looks like a rough customer. Tattoos, boots, cigarettes in his chest pocket. He begins to tear up when he sees Marigold’s scarred eyes. He wipes his face with his sleeve.
“This is some dog,” he says.
And so it was, on one summer night in Montgomery, when the crickets were screaming, and a ballgame was in full swing, Marigold the Magnificent was touched by almost every human in Montgomery County. People lined up for yards just to touch the hem of her collar.
She was greeted by policemen, EMTs, stadium employees, professional athletes, cheerleaders, beer vendors, sportscasters, TV journalists, news reporters, radio announcers, meteorologists, attorneys, musicians, children, and one notorious county judge.
For one night only, a blind coonhound was the most popular thing to ever hit Central Alabama. And well, I suppose I just wanted the man who wounded her to know that.
Biscuits win; 5-2.