About Us

Contact Us





First Chapterss


GREG VEIS - I set out to find Frankie Parrot.

I decided to watch the first inning of the game by myself. I sneaked down to the picnic area of the ballpark that sits on field level about ten feet from the third base line in left field and right behind the visitor’s bullpen. Some local business people had rented out this part of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and the signs that stood above the stairs that led down to it clearly read "RESERVED." Frankly, I didn’t too much care, and I didn’t think the renters would either. The scene was simply too idyllic—79 degrees for a 7 PM start time with a cozy spring breeze blowing out to left field—for anyone to raise a fuss.

Munching away at a bag of peanuts that I snagged from the complimentary (for me at least) buffet, I realized I had not attended an April ball game for a couple of years now, a reality that seemed a cause for distress.

April used to be my baseball month. Every year from my seventh to seventeenth birthdays, my dad and I would play hooky during the first week of the month to make our annual Opening Day pilgrimage to Dodger Stadium. The two of us have always been thicker than thieves, but out of so many fantastic times with him, some of my most cherished have taken place on this day. There is something special about baseball in April that can tighten any bond: the official end of a long winter, the taste of the first Dodger Dog of the season, the hope for a run deep into October. At this point the game simply beams with youth and hopefulness. Also, baseball just looks better at the beginning of spring. Dad and I always marveled at how magnificently the organization prepared the stadium every new year with the trimmed and patterned outfield grass, the freshly-swept infield dirt, and…

Then, all of a sudden one of the Bulls snapped a line drive between the bag and the third baseman’s non-glove hand. I looked up from my peanuts to the cheers of the rather small crowd, and had the ball taken a bigger bounce, I would have found a baseball right between my eyes. Unfortunately for my local plastic surgeon, the ball hit softly in the bullpen and caromed off a three-foot wall right in front of me into leftfield. Nevertheless, what turned into a double had awoken me from my nostalgic daydream, and I quickly realized that I had not come to the park for a teary glimpse into my times passed, but rather to meet a man who has turned into a type of cult hero in this part of North Carolina.

When the inning ended and I finished working on my bag of nuts, I set out to find Frankie Parrot. You don’t necessarily need a search party to find this man because, as the Bulls’ sweet-hearted receptionist Darlene flippantly points out, "Oh, everybody knows Frankie. He’s famous around here." In fact, he has maintained such unheard of loyalty to the Bulls that the team now has him on the payroll, picking up the tab for his season tickets, located in the high-rent district right behind home plate.

I tap him on the shoulder. "Hey Frankieeeee." (Of course, I have to say it like DeNiro in Goodfellas—the name just lends itself to that accent.)
"Hey pal! There you are," he responds rather enthusiastically, given that I had hardly spoken to him during our correspondences. Then, slapping the seat directly to his left, he declares, "Sit down here. We’ll talk."

I observe my subject as he stares straight ahead at the game unfolding before him. He stands at around six feet tall and has a larger than average build. His beard has not been attended to for several days, and his Bulls cap covers his short, spiky hair. He wears headphones above his hat so that he can listen to Steve Barnes call the game over the radio. ("This thing even has a tape player!") Under the bill his face appears worn from fifty-two years of life. Not decrepit, mind you. Just lived in.

We start by talking about his being a fixture at Bulls’ games for twenty-one years now. Since the beginning of the Reagan administration, Parrot has missed a grand total of one game. Well, "two at most," he later admits. He has seen hundreds of Bulls players come and go, some to the Bigs and others to the check out counter of a Wal-Mart in Topeka. He has seen winning teams and losing ones, and he has seen the Bulls through two stadiums.

"I like the new park myself," he thinks out loud in his heavy, yet uncharacteristically swift Southern drawl. "It is a lot more convenient, and the seats are better." Keeping in line with his somewhat staggered speech pattern, he stops for a second in between his thoughts, then starts again: "I don’t know. I just like that it’s more modern. I can’t really describe it. The field too—they say that’s a whole lot better."

His lack of description of the many amenities of the new park does not stem from a failure of words, but rather from one of sight. Frankie is blind. Always has been and probably always will be.
As debilitating as his handicap may seem, he still gets along quite well, thank you very much. His average game day runs a bit like this: he leaves the room that he rents from a lady in town to go to his job running off folders from a machine upstairs in the paper department of the Lion’s Club Industries for the Blind. Three hours before the first pitch, he then jets to the park by taxi or with the help of one member in his extensive network of friends. At the clubhouse he fraternizes with all the employees, and upon their seeing him, every single one of their faces lights up as they ask, "How’s it going, Franka?"—they say it decidedly more Carolinian than Sicilian. After a while of conversation about ball and work, in a move of the utmost importance, he heads upstairs to snatch some of the daily spread. Having swallowed some sliced-meat products, he finally parks himself behind home plate to take in the view for the next three hours before going home to start all over again.

As he champed away before the game and I drove to the stadium, I had a very fixed set of expectations. I found myself hoping that he would wax philosophic about his adoration for the game, and how he can still see it played on a self-constructed field in his mind. I yearned for the carefully crafted musings that could only come from a man who understood the game solely through the eye of his imagination. I dreamt of his talking like Crash Davis did in Bull Durham:
"Well [Greg], I believe in the soul... the cock...the pussy... the small of a woman's back... the hangin' curveball... high fiber... good scotch... that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent overrated crap... I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve, and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days. Goodnight."

However, I should have known better that Frankie Parrot would not be that brand of individual. He grew up in rural-squared Nightdale, North Carolina, several miles east of Raleigh, as the son of a plumber for the Wake County school system. His brother worked for thirty years at the canteen of Central Prison, and his one cousin who lives in Durham has a steady job with GTE. Frankie comes from honest, hard-working stock that values consistency and dedication over fancy words and useless postulation.

Indeed, such ramblings would seem way too extravagant for a man who has only known Central North Carolina. I’ll even go so far as to say that Frankie will not earn any free dinners at the Detroit Hyatt courtesy of a frequent flyer program any time soon. When they realized something screwy happened in the nerve endings behind his eyes back before he can even remember, he made the trip up to New York to see an optometrist. Since then though, the farthest that he has ever traveled away from the friendly confines of the Triangle Area was a mere ninety miles up Interstate 40. For a well-traveled city slicker like myself, I wondered if that sort of isolated existence wore on him, if he ever sought to explore the world.

"I’m not the traveling kind who wants to go from place to place," he explained, as if travel were an intolerable burden. "I’ve lived in this area alls my life. I’m more comfortable here. I’m used to it, and I work here ya know."

Trying to translate his love for the region into a tool for enhancing my four-year collegiate vacation here, I wondered what about Durham mystified him to the point of complete comfort. What makes it so special? ("I don’t know. It’s where I’ve always lived.") How has it changed? ("I’d say it’s got a couple more people in it, a little more crime.") What has the scaling down of the tobacco industry done to the community? ("Couldn’t tell yas. I haven’t thoughta that too much.")

The two tangible aspects of his life that he has the most intimate knowledge of—baseball and Durham—simply do not spark him on to greater queries. He just knows that he loves them, like a second baseman just knows how to flip the ball to the charging shortstop to instigate a double play. However, three items, more of the practical rather than the philosophical variety, are of more pressing concern to him tonight. First, the possibility looms that he may not attend Wednesday’s game because of its noon start time. As much as he loves the game, Frankie remains a realist. "I need to get off work to go to that one. I don’t like these games ‘cause I need to do my work before headin’ to the park." With an air of relief, he adds, "Luckily, there are only three this year."

Secondly, and of genuine annoyance to him now, the Bulls can do little right against the Triple A Yankee affiliate Columbus Clippers. After putting up three in their half of the first, the Bulls, well, more specifically starting pitcher Matt White, don’t do much in the way of making outs. Five innings and seven runs later, the squad finds itself well on the way to a lackluster 7-3 defeat. This isn’t sitting so well with Frankie.

Watching a game with him on a good night is tough enough between his ceasing all conversation when Barnes’ voice raises in his headphones, and his absolute feeling of obligation to yell some type of comment ("Good play, Toby." "Let me pitch!") at every possible opportunity. Fugghedaboudit if the Bulls are losing.

However, four innings in tonight, after a botched fielding play by White, he humbly accepts defeat, as he comforts his players, "I believe y’all should go home and start over tonight."
At this point he refocuses his attention on to his friends, who are perhaps his greatest passion—work, Durham, and even baseball, be damned. About once an inning, one of his seemingly millions of friends taps him on the shoulder to yak about one issue or another. The topic of discussion never really matters to Frankie, just the fact that he has the opportunity to bring life to somebody else’s does.

In fact he sees this type of selfless devotion to his friends to be of the utmost urgency. Here sits a man not given a fair hand from birth who feels his duty lies in helping others rather than the reverse.
"I’m just popular," he boasts, with all the untarnished pride of a Homecoming King. "I try to make friends everywhere I go. People get to know me, and I’m just a likable person. I can’t really explain it."

This desire to maintain his likeability quotient though feeds into the last issue that seems to give him some slight discomfort tonight. Though he has partaken in similar meetings in the past, including three or four television appearances ("I’ve been on the television a few times. I don’t make nuttin’ of it, though."), he still fears that he has not sufficiently fulfilled the role of the worthy subject. Every half hour, almost on the dot, he self-consciously asks, "Am I answering your questions OK, Greg? You have some good stuff on me, right?"

"Frankie, things are going great. Don’t worry."
His subsequent unprovoked and certainly rehearsed response: "I live with being blind. The sun is going to shine tomorra. I’ve lived with it alls my life and am used to it, so hell, you know, you can’t feel sorry for yourself because life goes on. I try to live that way and have a positive attitude."
"That’s great Frankie."
The voice in his headphones relays the news of a Bulls’ single.
"Oh what a swing, Greg!"

Finally, with the Bulls down four heading into the bottom of the fifth, Frankie receives another tap on the shoulder.
"Frankie, I’m leavin’ now," a pretty-faced older woman announced. "You can try to get a ride home later with someone else though if ya like."
"Nah, it’s all right. Plus, I gotsta take a shower anyway. Is that OK, Greg?"

Far be it for me to get in the way of proper hygiene, I bid adieu to my partner in spectation. Alone again on this April night, I decide to sneak back into the picnic area that all of the business people have already shuffled out of to find better seating. By this time the temperature cooled to the low 70's, the peach sky succumbed to the blackness, and the wind picked up a bit.
I cracked open another bag of peanuts.

As the players flutter across the field and the fresh air rushes into my eyes, I realize that I did not in fact come to the park to hear Frankie talk about the universality of baseball and the changing face of Durham. Instead, I longed for the simple pleasures of taking in a ball game. I came so that I could exercise my own pains for not having been able to go to the Dodgers’ Opening Day this year. I merely wanted somebody to share a bag of peanuts with. Somebody to appreciate the infield fly rule with. Somebody to replace my dad for nine innings.

This April night, I came to find someone to remind me of the effortless beauty of the true American game, and I found him, with my own two eyes, in the form of Frankie Parrot.

© Greg Veis 2001
email Greg

More lives in Lifestyles

< Back to Index
< Reply to this Article