Mural on the side of the Wininger Law Firm Building, downtown Birmingham. #baseball #birminghamalabama #birmingham #winingerlaw #murals
March has been a good month for me in terms of freelance writing, with four pieces in three different magazines. This one for Birmingham Magazine titled Birmingham Sportsville, U.S.A., is, without a doubt, the most comprehensive. A story I began working almost a year ago, I wanted to learn how, over the last decade and a half my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, has become a go-to city for an array of special sporting events. Since the mid-1990s Birmingham has successfully the following:
The city is also preparing to open the new downtown baseball complex, Regions Field in the middle of downtown Birmingham. The stadium will be home to the AA Birmingham Barons, marking the first time the minor league club has been in the downtown area since it left Rickwood Field back in the mid 1980s. All of this is happening in a city that has called itself the Football Capital of the South for almost a century.
That phrase can still be seen painted on the side of Legion Field, an aging football stadium known around football circles as the Old Gray Lady - old being the operative term. The stadium which hosted decades of epic University of Alabama football games while Bear Bryant roamed the sidelines hasn’t hosted a Crimson Tide game in almost ten years. These days, Legion Field hosts UAB Blazers home games to tepid crowds, and lost the state high school championships which left for to Auburn and Tuscaloosa (alternating years). Meanwhile, Birmingham struggles to gain support for a multipurpose domed facility that city leaders have wanted to build for close to 20 years.
I had a chance to attend a some cool events, including the 2012 Honda IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama, and I was able to interview some of great drivers including Charlie Kimball and Joao Barbosa for the story. Take a few minutes to read the story and drop me a line to let me know your thoughts.
A Trip Back In Time
I was rummaging through my parent’s house over the holidays and found this, my old all-stars baseball hat from way back in the mid-1980s. This was most likely from 1984 or 1985 when I was a 12 or 13 year-old second baseman and shortstop for South Roebuck in Birmingham, Alabama.
South Roebuck is a community in the eastern section of Birmingham where I did a whole lot of growing up, even though I lived close by in the small town suburb of Trussville. I started playing baseball at South Roebuck when I was 11 years old and played there until I was 14, and had a blast even if our teams stunk every year. My final year at SR, my team one a grand total of one game. My heavens we were lousy.
Anyway, like a lot of the old middle-class neighborhoods in the city limits, the community has seen better days, and the old ballpark topped hosting baseball games close to 20 years ago, although remnants of the park are still visible.
Of course, finding this old ball cap just flooded me with great memories - catching my first fly ball during my first game in center field, stealing home against a far better team in Tarrant City, and even getting beaned right between the eyes during an ill-timed pick-off attempt. I think the old ball cap is in pretty good shape, considering it’s spent over 25 years in a dank garage.
The Ryan Express - Behind The Scenes
I had a chance to interview baseball legend and all-around good guy Nolan Ryan recently for this piece in the May issue Tailgater Monthly Magazine. We spoke over the phone for about an hour and talked about a ton of issues - college football, politics, baseball’s steroid-era, etc.
As you could imagine, he spent quite a bit of time talking about his cattle and beef companies, and this current crop of Texas Rangers - a team he’s served as President and General Manager of since 1998 - and their trips to the World Series in 2011 and 2012. As we were talking it dawned on me, as hard it is to believe, that the Ryan Express left the train station for the last time almost 20 years ago.
There was so much ground covered that I had to leave some good stuff out, a painful process akin to writing some of my family out of my will. Below are a handful of quotes from Ryan that didn’t make it into the article.
On being drafted by the New York Mets at age 18
“That was a cultural shock for me, coming from small town Texas and having only been out of the state twice in my life. Going to New York for the first time as player and having never been to New York City was, obviously, a big adjustment for me from the standpoint of I had never lived in a big city. I think I went there at a good time in my life, because I was young and it was exciting. We had a very young ball club and a lot of us knew each other coming up through the farm system.”
On taking the job as president of the Rangers in 2008
“I thought I had patience until I took this job, but in the first year I realized I didn’t have the patience that I thought I had. What I had to do is step back and think about how I was when I was 21 or 22 years old. A lot of these players we had were really young players without a lot of experience, and so I had to realize that they’re playing in the big leagues, but are still in the developmental part of their career. I had to just look at it a little differently and that’s just one reason why I’m very excited about our ball club, because I still don’t think that a lot of these players that we have really reached their true potential yet. I think that some of them are capable of doing more than they’ve done already.”
I’ll end with this next quote, which is really quite interesting. Ryan discuses how training and nutrition for baseball has changed since breaking into the majors in 1965.
“I always felt if there is anything I could do to improve myself and be better prepared then I was certainly in favor of it. The second half of my career three was a real push with sports medicine and conditioning, and a better understanding with what you had to do as far as specific conditioning for what type of sport you played and what you did within that sport. So, I certainly feel like I benefited from that and I was very open-minded to it, too. We would take on some training techniques that the Japanese used. They were ahead of the time. I had a pitching coach that went over and worked the Japanese in the off-season and always came back with some things, and I would try them and incorporate them into my workout routine. If I felt like they helped me I’d continue to do them.”