A Quiet Hero

Cover Photo:  findagrave.com

“…Well I thought about it, you know I’m not playing.  You better listen to me,
every word I’ve been saying.  Hot is cold, what’s cold is hot.  I’m a little mixed up, but I’ll give it everything I’ve got.  Don’t want your money, don’t need your car.  I’m doing all right, doing all right so far.  I’m givin’ it up for your love – everything.”  (1980) – “Givin’ It Up For Your Love” – Composer & Recorded:  Delbert McClinton

Merriam-Webster defines “Invest” with three different entries.  The third is this:  “To involve or engage especially emotionally.”

Most see it like this…

Coins

I was given a gift when I was about 10 years old.  It was a piggy bank, but not in the traditional.  It wasn’t in a “piggy” shape at all.  It was transparent glass cylinders melded side-by-side.  There were four of these cylinders, each just the size of each denomination of American coins.  Much like a rain measurement gauge, the cylinders were marked-off to indicate how much was accumulated, depending upon how high the stack of coins.  Unlike the old piggy bank, I could see and count how much my investments added up to based on my deposits.  What a great teaching tool for a little kid.  Within this profile of the man below, I will get back to the transparent bank of deposits.

Today, the north Dallas suburb where I live has a population of around 140, 000 citizens.  When my mom and I moved here in the summer of ’73, it was far smaller.  The suburb is clustered with other suburbs to the point of not knowing which one you are driving through if you are unaware of the borders.  It’s always been a busy place with lots to do for whatever interests you might have.

Perry Road was between our apartment complex at the time, and the school I went to.  It was explored the first week we arrived so we would know the route to my school.  I walked that road every day during my 8th grade school year.  Later, I would consider it my jogging street.

I often saw a little old African-American man walking down Perry next to the curb in a brisk gate.  At first I didn’t really pay much attention to the man as we drove by.  After seeing him a few more times, as the summer went on, I took a bit more notice of the old man.  Once I got a good look, he appeared to be a vagrant, a poor homeless man, with weathered skin like leather.  He looked to be in his 70’s.  The idea of “Mr. Bojangles” came to mind.  His thin faded shirt was oversized, ragged and dirty.  His pants were either old cotton khakis, or worn-out bluejeans, complete with holes in various spots.  There were times he was seen wearing a postal carrier’s uniform, but it was old and frayed.  I always wondered where he got it, as I knew he wasn’t working for the post office.  He always wore an old sweat-stained baseball cap.  After awhile, it was the norm to see him with a burlap bag, or an old army duffle bag, swung over his shoulder with a couple of baseball bats sticking out.  Being new in town, and knowing I would be walking to school, my mom was hoping we had moved to a neighborhood where transients wouldn’t be an issue.  Seeing this old man caused her pause.

After the school year started, from time to time I would see this old man at my school’s baseball diamond swinging bats, hitting old lopsided beat-up baseballs with the stitching unraveling.  There were always kids around him, from 6 year olds to teenagers.  One day, I watched him from behind the backstop knocking one ball after another to whatever part of the field he pointed to.

Jimmy Porter Baseball

I wasn’t into baseball, but this old man was surprisingly talented at the sport.  They say from time to time a kid would beg him to hit one over the fence.  A crooked grin would launch from his sweating weathered face, followed by a soft chuckle, then pick up a ball and at will, knock it over the fence.  Two things come to mind.  First, he did it with ease.  Secondly, he looked far too skinny and old to put one over the fence.  Like a finely tuned choir, the kids would say, “Wow!  Cool!  Far-out!”  I could’ve hung around longer but, there were other things to do, places to go, people to see.  Plus, baseball just wasn’t my sport.

Jimmy Porter - Newspaper - findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

The kids in the community knew him simply as, Jimmy.  You could say he was like the Pied Piper, leading countless boys and girls to home plate and the pitcher’s mound.  He was well-known for walking to various elementary schools, as well as the Jr. High schools, and city parks to start pick-up games for whoever wanted to play.

Little did I know he had been doing this for the neighborhood kids since the 1960’s.  This mysterious old black man would come walking to these various baseball fields from seemingly out of nowhere.  Out of his old worn-out bag came a couple of old baseball bats which he held together with screws and nails after being split or cracked.  An armload of old baseballs, three or four ancient left-handed baseball gloves would fall out of the bag.  He coached.  He taught.  He umpired.  He pitched.  He chose players for the teams.  It didn’t matter to him if girls showed up.  Jimmy saw them as no different than the boys.  They all played their roles on the diamond, or outfield.  If there was a kid who struggled at the game, he spent more time with them for encouragement and personal growth.  Many an afternoon was spent teaching the art of baseball to the young community of our suburb.  He loved the kids.  They truly idolized the man.  Jimmy would stay until the very last child had to go home.  After waving the last player homeward, he would gather his baseball equipment in the bag and off down Perry Road he would go.

A few of my friends grew up being coached by Jimmy in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  It’s amazing to me that I never really learned about Jimmy until I became an adult.  Little did I know we had a baseball star in our midst.

Jimmy Porter was born September 2, 1900 somewhere in Tennessee.  For some unknown reason, Jimmy Porter came to Carrollton, Texas in the 1920’s.  Prior to his journey he had played for the old Negro Baseball League in St. Louis.  When he arrived in Carrollton, he was unemployed, uneducated, and didn’t have a dime to his name.  Considering the times, he was what they called a “hobo”, destined for a pauper’s life out on the streets.  On top of that, being a black man in the south, life was not promising in the 1920’s.  At the same time, he was rich in talent with a higher vision.

Shortly after he set foot in our community in the 1920’s, he formed a black semipro baseball team known as, The Carrollton Cats.  He played and coached The Cats for several years until they eventually disbanded.  Later, Jimmy convinced the leaders of the community to found a Carrollton Little League for the children.  As expected, Jimmy coached the league for many years.  Even after the Little League grew way beyond what it was in the beginning, after he no longer was the “official” coach, he continued to coach outside the league through pick-up games, not only in Carrollton, but also in the neighboring suburb, Farmers Branch, Texas.  The games were casual, friendly, and educational.  Jimmy was a small man, so he always made sure the smallest kids got to bat first.  Everyone was welcome to use his old baseball supplies.  Often at the end of the games, he hugged all the players with the warmth of approval.  They say he always left them with a wave and yelled out, “Everybody just love everybody”.  It’s ironic in that his motto described who he was.

Jimmy Porter - Glove Color - findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

Jimmy’s coaching grew some fruit.  For many years, our high school’s baseball team was considered one of the best in all of Texas.  In the trophy-case on campus, you can check out the championship trophies racked-up through the years.  Some players went on to terrific college teams and minor league teams across the nation.

Although he was poor, he didn’t ask for money for any of his work with the kids.  He was never seen begging in the streets.  Jimmy did receive high praise from the community through the decades of his selfless work.  Many offered him jobs.  He was known for odd-jobs when he could get them.  He did yard work, janitorial jobs, and grunt-work nobody wanted.

Despite his state in life, there would be awards of honor given, parades where he would be featured, as well as, a front row seat just behind home plate at all Little League games where he would hoop & holler encouragement to the players.  In 1973 a city park, named in his honor with a beautiful baseball field, was built which included a Jimmy Porter monument.  Jimmy didn’t have a family, so in 1977, Jimmy was awarded a lifetime membership by the Texas PTA.  He was featured in several newspapers, local television, as well as, the NBC Today Show in 1982.  Each year there is a recipient who is elected to receive The Jimmy Porter Award for outstanding community service.  Today, some of Jimmy’s old baseballs, caps, bats, and gloves can be seen under glass at the Carrollton Historical Museum.

Little did I know at the time, Jimmy Porter lived in an abandoned railroad boxcar just off the depot about 3 miles from most of the ball-fields he visited.  Frankly, I don’t believe most of the town knew where he lived.  In the early 1980’s, Jimmy’s health began to decline.  A few civic leaders, who once were under Jimmy’s wing in the dugout, built him a small frame house.  It was way overdue.  This old, quite hero shed a tear or two as the keys to the humble house were given to him.

At this point, I must admit I have some lingering anger.  It spews from the fact that decades went by before this community offered Mr. Porter decent room and board.  Think of it.  In 1973, when he was 73 years old, they built a city park for the man and named it Jimmy Porter Park.  Afterward the ceremony, they watched him walk back to his boxcar.  I’ll leave the subject here.

Jimmy Porter - House - Findagrave.com

Photo:  Findagrave.com

Mr. Jimmy Porter softly left us December 11, 1984, just about a year after moving into his new home.  He was 84 years old.  The community purchased a modest plot in one of our cemeteries, on Perry Road, where he wore out his shoes walking to and fro the school’s ball-fields.  His humble headstone features two baseball bats crossed.

Mr. Porter had no idea how important he would be to Carrollton and Farmers Branch, Texas.  Sure, he was a pauper, an uneducated man, a man seen as a vagrant in the eyes of the misled and misdirected.  Yet, as poor as he was, he gave.  Much like the Apostle Paul in scripture, he was willing to be poured out for others, and the generations to come.  Jimmy Porter gave of his personal value, the God-given special wealth inside of him.  Like a transparent piggy bank, he lived long enough to see the dividends of a lifetime of deposits from his heart and talents.  Multitudes who are now between 40-70 years old, who were raised in my neck of the woods, were, and are, his treasures.  His investment was enormous.  I would say, not so poor.

Like any good teacher, Jimmy Porter left an indelible mark on young lives that can be seen to this day.

Often I drive down Perry Road for old-time sake.  It never fails, I admit to looking down the street for an old tattered black man with worn-out baseball bats slung over his shoulder.

Investing in the lives of others, without seeking anything in return, pours out in fuel for the race.

“Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.’ – Ecclesiastes 11:1 – King Solomon  (New American Standard Bible)

A special thanks to Dave Henderson for some of Jimmy Porter’s memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Replies to “A Quiet Hero”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: