If I’m out on a nice summer evening and I see the lights on at the McCabe Park ball field, I’ll most likely turn into the park and grab myself a bleacher seat. Once a man’s coached Little League, once he’s got the smell of the outfield grass stuck in his head and a few pounds of infield dirt stuck in his shoes, he’ll be drawn to the ball field lights like a baby sea turtle to the bright horizon.
One night about five years ago, I saw the lights on at McCabe and pulled into the park. There I spied a few of my fellow retired coaches leaning up against the right field fence. I walked over and leaned on the fence with them. We talked coach talk, went over which kids might play high school ball, which kids might even make it to college ball and which kids might just run away with the circus.
After we’d discussed the ballplayers’ prospects, one of the coaches said to me, “We’re getting a new scoreboard tomorrow.”
“What’s wrong with the one you’ve got,” I asked.
“Don’t know,” he said. “It just quit working. Plus, it’s 30-something years old. It’s time for a new one anyway. Folks from Metro Parks are bringing the new one out tomorrow.”
“What are they going to do with the old one?” I asked.
“Take it to the landfill, or dispose of it however they dispose of scoreboards,” he replied.
Right then and there, I called a friend of mine who worked for Metro Parks. “I hear you’re taking down the scoreboard at McCabe Park tomorrow, and it’s going to the landfill,” I said.
“That’s the plan as far as I know,” she replied.
“OK,” I said, “here’s what you do: ask the nice fellows who’ll be taking it down to just lean it up against the fence. I’ll recycle it.”
“You know it doesn’t work,” she explained.
“Uh-huh,” I replied. “But I’ll make it work, one way or the other.”
The next morning I drove over to McCabe Park, and found the scoreboard leaning against the fence, along with the men who were installing the new scoreboard.
“You here to collect the old scoreboard?” one of the men asked.
“That’s me,” I replied. “I’m the scoreboard recycler.”
“Ain’t nothing wrong with it,” the man said, “except for the electrical cable got run over and snapped in two.”
I know, some of you are thinking, “Why would Jowers want a raggedy scoreboard that’s 30-something years old?” Well, here’s why: that scoreboard shone over the field where daughter Jess learned to play softball. It recorded every strikeout she ever threw at McCabe, every run she ever scored. At the very time the old scoreboard was coming down, daughter Jess’ school was in the process of finishing up a new softball field. That field had no scoreboard. So I gave the school the vintage scoreboard from McCabe Park. It rose from the near-dead, just behind our left-field fence.
The old scoreboard worked fine for three years. But last season, the lights on the “Guest” side stopped working. The school’s electricians were stumped; they couldn’t fix it. Most likely, replacing burned-out old parts would cost as much as a new scoreboard.
This winter, daughter Jess’ school bought shiny brand-new scoreboards for the baseball and softball fields. The McCabe scoreboard was lowered to the ground again.
I called the school. “What are y’all going to do with that old scoreboard,” I asked the man in charge.
“I suppose we’ll discard it,” he answered.
“How ’bout you just lean it up against the fence for me?” I asked.
Yesterday, my buddy Marc Ferguson and I drove out to the school’s ball field and loaded the old scoreboard into the bed of Ferg’s pickup truck. Now the scoreboard is getting close to 40 years old. It’s a little bent up from its unceremonious drop to the ground, and its paint is seriously faded. We drove it back to the Jowers house, unloaded it, and leaned it up against my backyard shed.
“What are you going to do with it?” Ferg asked.
“Well,” I said, “that scoreboard has watched over Jess’ whole ball career, ever since she was 5. I’m going to give it a home here in the backyard, and I intend to light it up.”
Ferg—who, besides being my buddy, is also my guitar-amp tech—called me this morning. He’s as handy with wires and switches as a man can be.
“Here’s what we do,” Ferg said. “We wire that thing up so it’ll make letters. Those four light boxes can spell out, ‘J-E-S-S.’ We can make it blink, or chase. You could even have a remote control.”
This afternoon, I told Jess about our plan for the scoreboard. She shook her head and sighed. “We are not a normal family,” she said. “All my friends have normal backyards, with benches and tables and stuff regular parents like. But here in our yard, mama hangs ornaments on the little dogwood trees and we’ve got a statue of Colonel Sanders. And as of yesterday, we’ve got a scoreboard that’s chased after me for 13 years, and soon it’s going to spell out my name in lights.”
“Anything wrong with that?” I asked.
“Heck, no,” Jess said. “I like it.”
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