Friday, January 7, 2011
Win it For...
I found a new blog the other day, simply titled Win it for. It has a collection of suggestions for the team to win it for this guy or that gal. It's got some great stories and I suggest you check it out. I thought I'd throw in my "win it for" nomination.
I met Owen Pierce, Jr in 1996. We were both ex baseball players. My career had ended a few months before thanks in part to a shoulder injury that one surgeon called "the black death" for pitchers. I had a surgery to repair it, but I was never the same. J.R., as we called him, was from Tampa. A decent enoguh high school palyer who loved the game of baseball. His dad, Owen Sr, played baseball at Auburn in the fifties. Owen Sr's picture hangs in the hotel bar at the conference center.
J.R. is a cut up. He makes you laugh out loud a lot. We met by chance when I joined up to play ball on a summer league team made up mainly of college wash-ups in the Central Alabama baseball league, known around those parts as the "Cable" league. It was the most fun I'd ever had playing baseball. Several of those guys are still good friends to this day, but J.R. was the guy. He almost single handledy made me enjoy the game of baseball again. (Anyone who has ever played junior college ball in Alabama likely knows where I am coming from).
The Cable League is made up mainly of African American teams scattered all over Central Alabama. The baseball fields in this league are made up of backstop in the middle of a pasture, literally. The games were played on Sunday afternoon. Fans came out and gave the white college kids a hard time. The joshing was all in fun and we always had a nice laugh with these folks during and after games.
J.R. was a stocky guy back then. He endured his share of ribbing when he pitched. One game they called him Spanky about every pitch he threw. Another game, when I was catching, I told the plate umpire that J.R. was Terry Bowden's only son. He walked up between innings and asked J.R. for tickets. It was a great time and baseball in its purest form.
J.R. also landed me a job at Auburn's Red Lobster. Lots of good stories from this place too, but I'll save that for another day. I made a lot of friends because of that guy, and really think in a way he taught me how to be more relaxed and easy going, something I need these days as I work in the health care field.
I moved to Birmingham after Auburn and J.R. went back home to Tampa. I lost touch with him after a few years until 2006, when my brother ran into J.R. at the now defunct Buffalo's on Magnolia after Auburn's 7-6 win over LSU. We kept with each other after that. He was planning on coming up to my brother's wedding in Destin in 2007. When he didn't show, I got pretty worried. This was pretty uncharacteristic for him.
I got a call the next day. J.R. was very sick and they weren't quite sure what was wrong.
Today, J.R. is on a liver transplant waiting list. He needs one because a childhood blood transfusion gave him hepatitis. It stayed dormant until his thirties. And today he sits, waiting, for a new liver and a new chance at life.
I saw him last in Auburn this year for the LSU game. I literally didn't recognize him. Today he looks frail and almost fragile. He didn't get to see Ontario's game winning touchdown run that afternoon because he became so run down by the unseasonable heat of that October day he collapsed in the upper deck at Jordan-Hare and wound up watching the rest of the game from the E.R. at East Alabama Medical Center.
So, I say win it for Owen Pierce, J.R., the biggest Auburn fan I know, a great friend, and a the guy for whom I hope and pray that there truly is life after forty.
War Eagle J.R.