Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In General: Game 35 in Jackson, TN

While the sculpture at the entry to Pringles Park in Jackson, Tennessee generally stands ready to welcome the crowd  to every game, it provided a most appropriate greeting for fans coming to the Memorial Day contest between the Jackson Generals and the Montgomery Biscuits.  Reminiscent of the statue of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, the bronze piece portrays two children holding an American flag and expressing success in having ascended a mountaintop.  Funded by an Armored Brigade Association, the untitled piece is dedicated to “The Children of Tennessee’s Fallen Warriors.”  
The name of the Jackson team also fit the holiday.  Last year, the team had been known as the West Tennessee Jaxx; but during the off-season the organization changed the name to that of an early team in the area: The Generals.  Now, the staff wears camouflage jerseys with the name blazoned across the front, and the mascot is known as Sarge.  While the team name, staff attire, and mascot demonstrate a deep appreciation for the military, the holiday to honor service men and women went otherwise uncelebrated.  There was no pre-game moment of silence to commemorate the sacrifice of soldiers.  No special presentation of colors or celebration of the flag to accompany the anthem.  No recognition of veterans in the community or the stands.  Even a simple statement acknowledging my project was missing in action.  

Melissa Farrell, a Generals' staffer, plays catch with the first pitch tosser.
Yet the anthem singer, as usual at Pringles Park, was given some special treatment—a ride in a new, red F-150 from the entry gate, down the hill outside the ballpark, through the left field access, around the warning track, and to the backstop behind home plate.  The $40K pickup truck was provided by a local Ford dealer as a promotional feature.  As we drove around the outfield wall, I teased the Generals’ staffer, asking if his perk for chauffeuring singers all summer was to get the keys to the pickup at the end of the season.  He laughed, but didn’t consider suggesting the possibility to the dealer.  Even so, when I got out of the truck, there was no introduction of the singer, no celebration of the anthem itself: only the identification and expression of appreciation for the sponsor.   And there was still almost a half-hour wait until the pre-game ceremonies would begin, during which time a couple of the staffers played catch and keep-away with the first ball tosser.
The big, red rider carriage for the anthem singer.
While the record-setting heat wave in the upper South slowed the scoreboard lights, which showed the names of the home team from the previous day’s NCAA playoff game, it also stifled the crowd, which was surprisingly sparse for the holiday evening.  There were so few fans that a solitary voice could be heard throughout the stands during the game.  In the fourth inning following a walk and a first-pitch ball to the next batter, the pitching coach went to the mound to talk to the Jackson pitcher, Erasmo Ramirez.  One fan yelled loudly and clearly at the pitching coach, “Don’t go out there and talk to him.  He’s doing fine.”  The penetrating voice brought a chuckle to the fans and a coterie of scouts who were aiming their radar guns repeatedly at Ramirez. 

15 minutes before the game, APSU is still posted as the home team against Montgomery.
After a rough first inning in which he gave up four runs on three hits, a walk, a hit batter, and a stolen base, Ramirez settled down, yielding only a single during the next six frames and retiring the last 13 Biscuit batters in row.  Thanks to the Generals’ seventh-inning, six-run surge that was capped off by a grand-slam homerun by first baseman Rich Poythress, Jackson claimed the win for Ramirez.    
This young fan charmed us with her smile and made us momentarily forget the heat.

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