JJ straightened his jersey at the end of the dark corridor and set off toward a large dark wood door beyond. As his sneakers hit the halfway mark, he filled his lungs with air and began a typical baseball cheer. “It’s game time!” A disembodied voice joined him as he broke into a run, another voice, then 20, joined in the cheer. JJ Johnson burst through the door to the VIP Lounge where the voices claimed their owners. The familiar Entertainment Host finished the cheer as he sprinted up the steps to the BB&T Ballpark. A buzzer sounded, and the huge wrought-iron gates swung open to release the fans.
The 6:00 P.M crowd gushed in like spilled molasses, and JJ sprang among them high fiving and greeting the regulars. JJ hand-picked contestants for the mid-game events as the guests passed. A preschooler, Roxy Jenson, whom JJ had known from birth, skipped up to him, her braids pinned down by a large hat shaped like a fish. The rest of the Jenson family trailed behind her. Roxy’s boldness had created a bond between JJ and the Jensons, who attend almost every home game. JJ knelt down as the babbling crowd swirled around. “Roxy!” He greeted her; she gave him a fist bump.
“Look, JJ!” she squealed, pointing up to her fish hat.
“Are you expecting a rain delay today?” He asked poking playfully at her orange life jacket.
Bouncing on her pink plastic sandals, Roxy answered, “Daddy said there might be a sprinklin’, so I wore my fishy hat to match you!” JJ laughed and straightened to shake hands with Mr. Jenson. JJ did indeed don a similar costume to entertain crowds on days with potential rain delays. It was one of his favorite characters to play.
JJ continued to excite and direct the mob that was hurrying to get to their seats. At around 7:00, after the game had begun with the Winston-Salem Dash on the mound, a little girl shoved her brother as they made their way back to their seats. Merchandise went flying, and the boy lay sprawled on the ground. His mother ran over to pick him up off the floor. JJ swooped in. The boy’s knee was skinned, and he was fighting back tears with great difficulty. His sister, arms folded, tried to keep concern from her stubborn face.
“Ouch!” JJ said, “ That looks like it hurt.” The boy shook his head his lips still pursed.
“What is your name?”
“David,” he managed.
“Do you think you can walk well enough to introduce the first game to the crowd with me?” JJ asked pulling out his microphone.
David nodded vigorously, and the two of them set off at a brisk pace toward the field.
The rest of the Dash Pack members were already on the field arranging the contestants for a game, which involved one volunteer hiking a beach ball through their legs toward a trashcan where another player acted as a backboard.
JJ introduced the beach-football-basketball hybrid game and called, “On your marks… get set…”
He held the mike low for David, “Go!!!!”
After this game, JJ led the masses in an earth shaking routine of ‘Cotton-Eye Joe.’ JJ delivered his trademark “Make some N-N-N-Noise!!” as Brooke, aka ‘lil bit,’ and Blake aka ‘Major,’ a new member of the Dash Pack, brought out the T-shirt slingshot. A teenaged girl waved her arms to get ‘lil bit’s’ attention. Brooke’s aim was only slightly off. The Winston- Salem Dash shirt shot instead toward her date who was holding a large soda in his hands. The soda exploded as the colorful cloth projectile met its mark, drenching the boy and sloshing onto a few neighbors. Trying not to grin too broadly as the crowd erupted in laughter, JJ went over to do his best to reignite enjoyment in the soggy fans.
The game ended and the fans, celebrating or crestfallen, meandered toward their waiting cars. JJ, winded by the personality he had expended, but more grateful than ever to have a job where his humor and charisma could be put to full use, shed his Dash jersey. One home game down, 70 to go.