New Beginnings for a Long Friendship / by Bill Frakes

Not sure how exactly why I stopped to talk with him.

I was in a hurry, working on an assignment for ESPN at the baseball grounds in Birmingham and things were hopping.

We'd never met but I hope we will again and again.

Birmingham, AL  5/31/2015 Biloxi Shuckers road trip. Birmingham Barons vs Biloxi

His tenor was slow and steady, the cadence strong and measured. Quiet, but absolutely resonate. Pleasant.

He asked me if I was from Mississippi. I was totally caught off guard. My accent is not Southern, but I went to school in Oxford years ago. So I allowed yes, sort of — I spent some time there.

I was searching for the clue that tipped him off. No Ole Miss logos anywhere, no mention of Mannings, he couldn't have known I had a Larry Brown novel in my backpack....

There was music blaring on the stadium sound system. Rap.

We shared a fifty year old plus guy look, grin and nod at the lyrics, which were, ummm, not conservative.

He mentioned jazz. He used to play tenor sax, but when he wanted to go north for a music education — Berkeley in Boston, Guliard, NYU college of music, his parents pushed him to something more practical, more likely to be financially beneficial. We talked about education, formal and informal.

That led to more jazz. And Miles Davis. The imagination of Davis' trumpet riffs. He said it took him years and hundreds of listens to get his mind free enough to, well, understand the possibilities, the voice, his voice.

I told him I don't really understand jazz. I'm too straightforward I suppose. I like the Blues. They tell you what they're thinking. It's storytelling, it's voices from the land, of the people.

He understood.

We talked about what it was like to grow up black in Bull Connor's Birmingham. And conversely my life in the Nebraska badlands. Not much overlap.

We talked about where society is, and about the work that's been done, and the work that needs to be done.

A chance meeting, but a new friend.


A piece I worked on for ESPN, “On the Road Again - The Biloxi Shucker's Endless Summer” launches today.