Alabama baseball fan has attended nearly every game over past decade
Jim and Patricia Myers narrowed down their list to as far as they could, trying to decide a name for their newborn son.
Ronald? Richard? Those names were taken by the baby boy’s older brothers. The name would begin with an “R” because they wanted to stay consistent, but that was as far as they knew. Eventually, both parents came to an agreement.
There was only a few more names they could choose from but they wanted to make sure they were certain in their decision, of course, so they continued their search thoroughly.
“Roger. I was named after Roger Maris,” the baby boy would say over half a century later.
The then 25-year-old New York Yankees outfielder was one of the brightest stars in the game and, after all, Jim and Patricia loved baseball and the Yankees even more.
So it was settled.
On July 20, 1960 in Selma, Alabama, Roger Myers – and a life seemingly destined to be ingrained with baseball – was born.
“Maris had been traded from the Kansas City Athletics to New York,” Myers said. “He was MVP in ’60 and ’61, though my birth was only halfway through his first year there.”
He paused for a moment almost as if he was trying to remember if he had his facts straight.
“I don’t know why they were Yankees fans,” he said before letting off a laugh.
Myers’ allegiance has never fallen under the same type of scrutiny. How could it? Over the past decade, he has attended over 400 University of Alabama baseball games, both home and away, a mark that can be matched by only a handful of people at best. That includes several weekend road trips at opposing SEC schools, most neutral site games in cities like Birmingham and Montgomery, and attending every single home game since he began coming regularly in 2004, save a game or two.
“They had to move a game to like 3 o’clock on a Wednesday because of weather and I couldn’t do that because I was still working and we closed at 6,” Myers said.
Retired since 2012 when he sold his Tuscaloosa pharmacy chain, Jim Myers Drug, to Walgreens, Myers, now 54, has little to prevent him from missing a single pitch now.
On a baseball game day, his routine goes something like this: Wake up before the sun rises. Run and workout for the first three or four hours of the day. Then, depending on what time the game starts, leave his home where legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once lived and arrive at Sewell-Thomas Stadium some two or three hours before the first pitch is even thrown.
While the players take the field for batting practice and pregame warmups, Myers enjoys taking that time to talk and get to know their parents. In a small but strong core fan base, Myers makes an effort to befriend all of them, with there being a mutual understanding that he will never tire hearing about each one’s son. “I kind of get that because I don’t have a dog in the hunt, so to speak,” he said with a smile.
When the game starts, Myers occupies the same spot above the first base dugout by the railing nearest to home plate. Specifically, it’s row 4, seat 3, which he has a season ticket for along with at least three others, though he thinks he may have as many as eight total. He’s not entirely sure.
He is usually accompanied by his wife, Sherry, but she still works and occasionally takes classes at Alabama, so her schedule doesn’t always allow her to come. When she does, they enjoy each other’s company at the games, but even she knows much of his attention will be elsewhere anyway. Once the first pitch is thrown, Myers won’t leave his spot, so if you want to talk to him, you have to come to him.
“He’s always got his little program thing, keeping up with the book and who’s getting the hits,” said Taylor Dugas, a former Alabama first team All-American and current outfielder in the Yankees organization, who befriended Myers during his four years on the team from 2009-2012. “You can’t really talk to him much during the game, obviously, because he’s so locked in.”
Baseball is more than just in Myers’ name, he grew up with it – literally. As a boy in Selma, future MLB players Lou Piniella, Duke Sims, Larry Brown and Max Alvis all rented rooms in his family home while playing for the Selma Cloverleafs, a Class D minor league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians that no longer exists.
In 1964, the family moved to Tuscaloosa when Jim was offered a job with Harco Drug pharmacy, and Myers hasn’t lived anywhere else since. At age 9, he began his baseball career the moment he was old enough to sign up for the local youth league, though he was never quite as good as his heroes on the “Big Red Machine” Cincinnati Reds teams of the 1970s. He made the now-defunct Tuscaloosa High School team as a junior or senior, but in two years, only batted four times. “I got a hit, an RBI and scored a run,” Myers said, laughing again.
When he graduated from Alabama with a degree in marketing in 1982, he instantly moved in full time as president at Jim Myers Drug, which his father had opened seven years earlier in Alberta and eventually expanded with four other locations spread out across all corners of Tuscaloosa.
Business was never an issue, even up until the company was sold (Jim passed away in 2007), but time was. Myers worked 70-hour weeks, so making it to the games wasn’t always easy. He frequented “The Joe” over the years, but it wasn’t until in-town product Morrow Thomley signed with the team did he get hooked.
“He was a family friend,” Myers said. “His dad and my brothers went to school together and he worked for me at the pharmacy, so I had known him all of his life.”
One thing led to another and soon enough he knew almost all the players and their parents personally, which only grew with every new crop of incoming players each year.
He counts Dugas and Thomley as some of his all-time Alabama baseball favorites, though current Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila and Baltimore Orioles closer Tommy Hunter also make the cut.
Roommates in 2006 and 2007, both Avila and Hunter were not particularly familiar with Tuscaloosa, or the state of Alabama in general, when they arrived at the school as freshmen in 2006. Both had come from out of state – Avila from Hialeah, Florida near Miami and Hunter from Indianapolis – so getting used to their new surroundings came with a transition period.
But all it really took to make them soon feel at home was always seeing that familiar friendly face at the ballpark, whether it be a season game, a team scrimmage in the fall or just an ordinary batting practice.
“He definitely makes everyone feel comfortable around him,” Avila said. “It was definitely nice when you go to the park to see someone like that, get to know someone like him. I think he also knew that with guys coming in from out of state, they needed a little extra help.”
When he goes to the stadium now, Myers wears the hat of whichever team a former Alabama baseball player now plays on in the majors. Usually, he starts with the Orioles hat for Hunter – “I am more of an Orioles fan. I like their team,” he says – but as soon as the Crimson Tide loses, the hat is traded out for either a Tigers (Avila), Yankees (David Robertson, now with the Chicago White Sox), Colorado Rockies (Josh Rutledge), Milwaukee Brewers (Jimmy Nelson) or Los Angeles Angels (Wade LeBlanc).
The cycle continues after each loss, not only for superstitious purposes, but also because he wants to represent his guys. It’s reasons like this that have given him the consensus best fan title for Alabama baseball.
“No one is as big of an Alabama baseball fan as he is,” Sherry said. “He is the ultimate, most awesome fan they have. Rain, hail, sleet or snow, he is there. But he’s like that about everything. He goes at it 110 miles an hour, just nonstop.”
Said Dugas, “As far as who I know, I would say him.”
Added Avila, “No question. I don’t know a bigger one.”
On this particular afternoon, a fall Wednesday in November, Myers is disheartened. Looking out from the right field seating area of the stadium, he is still in a bit of disbelief about what is being done to his second home – the Joe as he knows it is leaving.
A brand new $30 million Sewell-Thomas Stadium is set to replace the old one on the same grounds by the start of the 2015 season, and the construction process has already taken several strides. During that time, Alabama will be forced to spend the entire 2014 season on the road with the majority of its home games scheduled to be played in Hoover, 50 miles away. Myers still expects to be at all of those games, but the idea of playing an entire season away from Sewell-Thomas Stadium is haunting.
He worries about whether the new stadium will still have the same cozy feel and if he will still have his same seats, though he realizes the upgrade is for the best. Reassuringly, he knows the memories aren’t going anywhere ever, and at this moment, one particular one comes to mind.
“I can’t even remember who it was a few years ago,” Myers said, “but I always sit near the aisle so all the people I know could come by, and whoever it was said, ‘You’re like the mayor of the Joe!’”
Even in a new residence, it’s hard to imagine anyone will be running against him for that designation anytime soon.