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.”
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.