Tagged: Regions Park

“If There’s a Tornado, Can We Come in Here?”

This is part one of a three part series.

The Birmingham Barons’ 11:00am game on Wednesday, April 27th in Huntsville was cancelled. I was at home in Birmingham at the time. I knew we were supposed to be getting some pretty rough weather later in the afternoon, but it was just warm and cloudy at that time. I figured it got to Huntsville first and washed away the game.

The team bus arrived back at home around 2:00 that afternoon. That was when I found out the real reason the game was cancelled. The Huntsville Stars were aware of the weather headed to North and Central Alabama and decided to cancel the game to be sure that my team could make the bus ride home safely, not driving home in the storms. The bus driver told me about the rain and wind they encountered on the way home. He had to pull over for a while to let the wind subside before driving his large metal sail over the elevated Tennessee River bridge, thus avoiding the “Barons Team Bus Blown Off Bridge’ headlines. But it was still warm, dry, and cloudy at our ballpark. The Huntsville Stars and the Birmingham Barons knew we had some serious weather headed our way, but I still hadn’t figured it out.

Sometime around 3:30, as I was unpacking from the road trip in our quiet underground clubhouse, a female voice startled me.

“Excuse me, sir. If there’s a tornado, can we come in here?”

I looked up to an older woman poking her head in to the clubhouse door that leads to the parking lot. It was obvious she was from the neighboring RV park that’s out past the right field line at Regions Park

“Ummmm….. Yeah, I guess. I don’t know what the actual procedure is, but you can totally come down here.”

I later found out what normally happens during severe weather. The park ranger unlocks the gate on the first base side and the people from the RV park hang out on the concourse.

No chance was I going to make the residents of the RV park dodge flying mustard packets and beer stands while I was safely watching tv under millions of tons of concrete. I posted the following status on the Inside the Clubhouse Facebook page:

“Apparently I will be hosting a tornado party for the people in the neighboring RV park tonight. I hope they bring beer and snacks.”

My buddy, DJ, texted me within a few minutes of the status post. He didn’t have power since the storms that rolled through the previous night (The storms Tuesday night knocked out the power at the stadium, destroyed the aluminum bleachers at the soccer fields beyond left field, and left about 100,000 Alabama residents without power.) DJ asked me if he and our pal Travis could come weather the storms with me. It really was turning into a party.

This was about the time that I realized that we may have some serious trouble headed our way…. maybe I should turn on the tv and see what’s going on.

Weather coverage was on every channel. By the time I turned on the tv around 4:00, meteorologists were already tracking three tornadoes on the ground in Western Alabama. They were talking about having never seeing formations like they were seeing right now. Not in over a decade had three tornadoes of this magnitude been on the ground in the same vicinity. I guess I turned on the tv at a pretty good time.

DJ and Travis arrived about 30 minutes later (with tons of sodas) and the RV park residents with the park ranger started to trickle down about the same time. Ken and Jan Dunlap, our visiting clubhouse staff, were in the visiting clubhouse. Apparently our visiting club hotel told the Mobile BayBears that they weren’t safe at the hotel and should go somewhere else if they could. They came to the visiting clubhouse, along with a few city employees who were working in the ballpark area. I got a call from one of our Barons player asking if I was at the clubhouse. Within a few minutes, there were five players, a wife, and an infant.

I kinda introduced myself to our new ballpark inhabitants. There was an older man from Colorado Springs, a couple from Kingsport, TN, a younger gentleman from Birmingham who just lived in his camper, a couple who was just driving their RV from Texas to Atlanta who saw downed trees and figured they stop and see what’s going on, and a few others.

Ken, Jan, and I had evolved from clubhouse managers to tornado shelter managers for a shelter that was housing an entire professional baseball team, a dozen RV park residents, three Barons interns, five players from the home team (and a wife and infant child,) a few city employees, and a couple longtime friends from across town.

We all were gathered around tv’s at approximately 5:00 when the largest of the tornadoes they were tracking rolled through the heart of Tuscaloosa. It was nearly a mile wide.

Let that last paragraph sink in. Reread it, if you must.

Tuscaloosa is the fifth largest city in Alabama, with over 90,000 residents. The University of Alabama is in Tuscaloosa, it houses 30,000 students. Granted, there weren’t many full-time Alabama residents in the room, not that you had to be a local to realize the ginormity of what was going on, but each of us knew somebody or many people in Tuscaloosa.

T-Town is about sixty miles or an hour drive southwest of Birmingham. That tornado, along with all the other tornadoes and potential tornadoes, was headed on a northeast route. We figured it wouldn’t be too long before something bad was upon us.

We continued to watch the radar as that twister kept moving northeast and eventually north of us. The TV was showing us the view from a skyscraper in downtown. From that angle they were showing, it looked like it was going right through downtown Birmingham. About a half hour later they told us it tracked north of downtown and straight through the suburbs of Hueytown, Pleasant Grove, and Fultondale.

My five year old son and his mom live in Fultondale.

The news channels only mentioned Fultondale in passing. I waited and waited to hear reports of the extent of the damage in Fultondale. Stayed pretty calm the whole time. I try to call and text my son’s mom and her mom, but phone service was pretty much gone north of town. Still stayed pretty calm. The tv still didn’t say much about Fultondale.

I finally received a text at 10:28pm, over three hours after the storm had passed. Everyone was ok.

In the meantime, I introduced our temp tenants to the pregame spread, two tornadoes passed within five miles of my house, a tornado came close to DJ and Travis’s side of town, the worst of the weather passed, and our temp tenants left the ballpark basement.

Regions Park escaped with no damage. It barely rained. Well it barely rained water, but it did rain debris. There was a steady flow of bark, leaves, and other things falling from the sky. Someone found a 5X7 of a family at an airport. Judging by the hairstyles, it was probably from the mid ’90’s. We also found a 3′ by 1′ piece of wallpapered wood panelling. I’d have to guess that this stuff came from mobile homes 30-100 miles away.

 


debris.jpgWe have a pitcher who is from Gadsden, AL this season, Kyle Cofield. Gadsden is a little over an hour away, he’s local, but he’s not local enough to drive home everyday. He’s been staying with a friend of his who has a house across town….. in Fultondale. Cofield came in a little early Thursday morning. He said that his buddy’s house had some damage, but most of the buildings in the immediate vicinity were crippled or gone.

Cofield showed me a few pictures he had on his phone. I used to live in Fultondale too, I knew exactly where he lived, and exactly where the pictures were taken. Judging by what Kyle and my son’s mom have said and the pictures they’ve shown me, my family dodged disaster by no more than a couple of miles.

 

The End

 

This is part one of a three part series about the effect the tornadoes that swept the South on April 27th have had on baseball and the communities in the area. 

Part Two: “How Can We Help?”

Part Three: Day Two in Pratt City, Alabama

Back to the Action – Infield Singles

Today was my first day back at the ballpark. You’d think I’d be excited to be back at the baseball job after five months at sub-awesome jobs. You’d be correct. I’d love to say I missed everything about this place, but I’ll settle for saying I missed almost everything.

 

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The first thing that hit me when I took the elevator to the clubhouse level, before I even saw the field, was the smell. The smell is awesome. It’s a mix between musty lack of circulation, cut grass, and leather. Even though this ballpark hasn’t seen baseball since the first of September, the smell of leather never leaves.

My first season working in the clubhouse at the Hoover Met Regions Park was 2001. I remember when Chris Jenkins, the director of stadium operations at the time, took me down the elevator to the lobby between the clubhouses. I remember the carpet, I remember the excitment of hoping to get hired, I remember it being dark until he hit the light switch, I remember the sound of him unlocking the clubhouse door, and I remember the smell. After the 2001 season, I took an eight year hiatus from the Birmingham Barons to work with other teams and pursue other careers. When I returned to Regions Park on March 30th, 2009, it caught my attention that the smell of the clubhouse was the same as it was when I had left.

 

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It’s March 21st, my team arrives from Arizona on April 1st. That leaves me ten calendar days to get this place ready to rock and roll. Doesn’t sound bad, till you see my list of things to do and consider that I still have a forty hour work week left at one of my offseason jobs.

By the end of this week, I hope to have the coolers cleaned, carpets vacummed, 3000 pounds of weights put in place, table put where their supposed to be, cable and wi-fi hooked up, the fridge sanitized, towels rewashed and folded, the tunnel blown, the dugout hosed, the showers scrubbed, the plates purchased, fifty cases of bottled water bought, chairs in place, the ping pong table stocked and set up, chairs in lockers, hangers hanging, a new George Foreman grill hooked up, trash cans lined, food serving tables set, boxes upon boxes of bats organized and locked away,  balls locked away, my personal clothes hung, cardio equipment put in place, bench cups put in place, the dryer fixed, a washer replaced, a flat bed cart “borrowed,” TP filled, couches couchified, and pass lists copied.

If I get all of that done by Monday, next week I can organize the uniforms, hang the boxes full of balled up pants, put away the equipment truck (which delivers the trainer’s stuff, pitching machines, ball bags, hitting tees and screens, back up helmets, coaches’ luggage, more balls, more bats,….), assign lockers, procure hats, pass out socks and belts, buy the food, talk to the caterers, purchase the toiletries, and print and post the locker plates.

 

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The main problem that I’m having right now is a traffic-of-stuff gridlock.  

Examples:

The stuff that’s crammed in the managers office needs to go in the corner of the food room. The stuff in the corner of the food room needs to go into the training room.

The stuff on in the cage needs to go into the locker room, but it’s path is blocked by stuff that needs to go in the cage.

The stuff on the front wall of the food room needs to go on the right wall, which is occupied by the stuff our front office is storing there.

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Yeah, I’m getting excited now, it’s hit me a little bit. Baseball season is around the corner and I’m back at my career. To be honest, I’m a little surprised by how excited I’m not. I thought I’d be busting at the seams or trying not to pee my pants. Last year, I was a little more excited on “Back to the Action” Day than I was this year, but the real excitement came when my players arrived, I’m sure it’ll be the same this year.

I’ll probably ride the bus to the airport to pick the guys up this year. I didn’t last year, I had too much work to do. Last year, I was waiting in the parking lot when the bus pulled up. I was still a little nervous because I didn’t feel like I was ready yet. Still had things I had wanted to accomplish before the team pulled up. 

Then, I saw my dudes, and life was good. A few of my faves from ’09 were back. Matt Long, Johnnie Lowe, Jared Price, Jim Gallagher, Kyle McCulloch, Jhonny Nunez, Christian Marrero, and Charlie Shirek were all here again. Life was awesome. We had a few new guys who seemed friendly too. I hit it off with Dale Mollenhauer and Tyson Corley on the first day.

I can’t wait to see who we have this year. The Chicago White Sox know how to drafted superb men.

 

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I’ve been hit with this question a lot the last couple of months:

“Who’s gonna be back this year?”

I don’t know. I will not know for sure who is going to be back in Birmingham this year until they are on the plane from Phoenix. I could speculate with the best of em, but what’s the point? It may kill a little time in the offseason, but I’ll just wait and see.

 

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Another question I hear often:

“Who do you want to come back this year?”

Easy and honest answer: None of em. I would love to see each of the guys who have passed thru here in Chicago next year. Seriously. Yeah, I’ve have my favorites that I’d love to have in my clubhouse everyday, but I’d rather be watching them on television.

 

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One last thing.

Prior to the 2009 season, the Birmingham Barons played an exhibition game versus the University of Montevallo baseball team. Montevallo is a Division-II school from down the road in…… Montevallo.

The Barons pitched nine pitchers that night, one each inning, to give their guys a little work. The Barons one-hit the Falcons that night. Carlos Torres was the pitcher who gave up the one hit. After the exhibition game, Carlos Torres was promoted to Charlotte and later was promoted to the Big Leagues.

Carlos Torres was statistically the worst of nine pitchers that night, and he earned a promotion.