Riverwalk Stadium and the Freedom of Thirsty Thursdays

Words: Brent Rosen  Photos: Thomas Lucas

Friday July 18, 2014: 7:24 a.m.
 

I lie awake through two titters of the iPhone alarm before gaining awareness of my 
hangover. Snooze button once, twice, three times, until 24 minutes becomes the limit I 
can hold out before going to the bathroom. I slap at the wall until the bathroom light 
turns on and get a good, painful look at myself in the mirror through eyes so dry they're 
stuck half shut. Lifting the toilet seat I realize my hand is stamped in two places and I'm 
wearing a hunting-vest orange wristband. I hear a snippet of a Talking Heads song in 
my mind and I have to ask myself, "how did I get here?" 

 

Thursday July 17, 2014: 6:55 p.m.


I walked into Riverwalk Stadium flanked by Katie Vega and Thomas "Bama Bear" 
Lucas, ready to find out why Thirsty Thursdays at Riverwalk Stadium seemed to have 
the liveliest singles scene of anywhere in Montgomery. I had been to a Biscuits game 
on a Thirsty Thursday a few months before and could not get over all of the young, 
good looking, clearly single people mingling about throughout the game. I had always 
wondered where all of the young people in Montgomery went, and that night I found 
them. I made a mental note to come back and investigate further. I'd been putting it off 
ever since. Tonight was finally the night. I was out to write "Getting Lucky at a Montgomery Biscuits Game: A Field Guide," influenced by nothing more than some classic naturalist literature I'd purchased used on amazon.com, instinct, and pre-game whiskey from Central. Katie was there to make it less awkward when I walked up to women and asked them if they were at the Biscuits game because they were looking to get laid, and Bama Bear was there to take pictures. If the previous few sentences created the impression that this 
was a well thought out, highly-planned bit of newspapering, please think again. 

It's when you walk through the gate on Tallapoosa St. and the usher takes your ticket 
and directs you to the "age verification" table with the hunting-vest orange wristbands 
that you realize something more than baseball is happening here. Normally, someone 
checks your Id, if at all, at point of sale. That step had been removed. I sensed the 
Biscuits were ready for a borderline drinking-age crowd and high-volume liquor sales. 
Encouraged, we pressed forward. 

A few $2 dollar beers and a bag of Houston's peanuts later, we found seats along the 
first base line and caught a few innings of Biscuits versus Jackson Generals before 
going to work. Main memories: all white baseball players look the same, and all have 
the same goofy grin. I thought Ketel Marte name was pronounced like "Ketel One," and 
Katie disagreed. Someone hit a home run and it bounced really, really high off of the 
concrete outfield wall, over a railing, and possibly onto the train tracks behind the 
stadium. For about half an inning. I sat rapt as Bama Bear told me about how he 
recruits models for his personal photography. I wondered if a baseball could derail a train. I noticed that Ketel Marte had almost no plate discipline and related to Katie and 
Bama the old baseball adage that Dominican players swing at everything because "you 
can't walk off the island," an idea that seems highly stereotypical but also likely to be the 
God's honest truth. You know, we watched baseball. 


Thursday July 17, 2014: 8:03 p.m.


Youths began trickling in. The bar along the first-base line at Riverwalk Stadium had a 
surprisingly strong draft beer selection, but we ordered Budweiser anyway. I decided to 
get all of my interview anxiety out of the way first, and scanned the bar for the most 
intimidating person I could find. I saw a group of tough looking guys wearing "Plug 
Uglies" biker vests and bandanas and decided the guy who looks like their leader was 
the place to start. 

I walked up to the big, red-bearded guy, introduced myself and asked, "so, tell me about 
your gang, the Plug Uglies." The man introduced himself as Bob McGough and 
explained the "gang" was a group of music fans and supporters who helped bands go 
on tour by setting up gigs at local venues and then offering up couches or spare rooms 
for bands to crash. McGough explained the chapter got together at least a couple times 
a month, and that they chose to come to the Biscuits game because "we like to drink 
beer and the beer is cheap here." 

Although not the intimidating biker I'd expected, McGough and I made a connection. I 
jumped right in, asking the first of what would be many variants of the same question: 
"so, how is the singles scene here? Is this a good place to, you know, meet people?" 
McGough started laughing, joined by some of the other Uglies who'd been 
eavesdropping a few feet away. "We're not really your mainstream crowd," McGough 
explained. "We go to Aviator after Biscuits games, but if we go out normally it's to Head 
on the Door or GT South. The sort of girls we're interested in don't really hang out here." 
Another curve ball from McGough -- not one second of this interview had gone the way 
I'd expected. We talked a few minutes more about McGough's work on heavy metal fan 
zines and GT South's board game night before I had to excuse myself to look for 
someone more conventionally single and ready to mingle. 

I rewarded the team for our first successful interview with a round of drinks, happy to 
have met someone genuinely interesting even if McGough and the Uglies did not move 
the intended narrative forward an inch. It was time to get serious. I switched to the 
Budweiser of whiskey -- Jack Daniels -- and joined Katie as she smoked outside of the 
stadium. On the way out, an usher stamped my hand. 

Thursday July 17, 2014: 8:55 p.m.

I conduct over one dozen interviews. Because of the somewhat suggestive nature of my 
questioning, I agreed to use no real names. I approached a group of about eight young, 
double-fisted beer drinkers and asked them "why does Riverwalk Stadium feel so much 
like a college bar?" One of the men responded, "College? This might be a high school 
bar," as he looked at an admittedly youngish group of girls walking by on the way to their seats. Changing angles, I asked, "If not for girls, then why do you come to 
Riverwalk Stadium?" He answered, "there's two dollar beer, and the social aspect of it. 
You know that people you know are going to be here. I know my friends will be here. 
People you get to bump into once a week." I was hoping for sex-crazed, or at least 
fevered, but again relative wholesomeness reared its mundane head. 

Slowly, interview after interview, a theme emerged. I approached a tall blonde girl who 
I'd watched prowl the catwalk between the concession stands and the seating like it was 
the aisle of a grocery store and asked her what brought her to the Biscuits game. She 
responded, "to get us something to do. There's nothing to do in Montgomery. The 
Biscuits are the place to go, to meet up, to have a good time." She further informed me 
she attended AUM, was into cosmetology, and that the best part of the Biscuits game 
was "seeing all the faces." She was but one example: again and again, interviewees 
touched on the theme of "there's not much to do in Montgomery but go to Biscuits 
games," as if Riverwalk Stadium was an oasis in the otherwise fun-free desert of 
Montgomery. 


I pulled Katie, who is significantly younger than I am, aside and asked her why the 
young people of Montgomery think there is so little to do. Katie explained Montgomery, 
especially for young people, isn't so much boring as it is controlled. The restaurants and 
bars of this town are full of prying eyes and gossipy old twits ready to report 
"inappropriate" behavior to your mother, your friends, or your co-workers. Many young 
Montgomerians, Katie continued, still live with their parents, and many of their parents 
live in East Montgomery -- an area constructed for the purpose of smoothing 
spontaneity. Katie then asked me "has Montgomery ever felt small to you?" "Of course," 
I responded. Katie took a sip from her drink, letting me think about that for a minute, 
then asked me to imagine how small Montgomery must feel for someone fresh out of 
college and living with their parents in Pike Road. 

With that assist from Katie, it dawned on me that Biscuits games are the best thing 
going in Montgomery on Thursday night because it is one place where young 
Montgomery can legitimately expose itself to the possibility of adventure. The game's 
atmosphere felt so familiar because I'd lived it when I was on the cusp of adulthood but 
still living with my parents, going to events like county fairs and music festivals and my 
first few weddings. I remember hanging out in the shadows just beyond the lights, 
reaping the fruits of no adult supervision. You never knew who you'd meet on nights like 
that, where those nights might take you, what lies you'd have to tell in the morning. On 
those nights, you knew the taste of freedom. 

For young people in Montgomery, bound by social convention and its many enforcers, 
freedom is in short supply. Biscuits games provide something nowhere else in 
Montgomery can: a place where young Montgomery is free to get loose. It's a place 
where eyes on the field means no eyes on you. It's a place where only the batters have 
to worry about getting hit in the face with fastballs for violating old-fashioned, unwritten 
rules. Riverwalk Stadium on Thirsty Thursday isn't about getting lucky, but the possibility 
of getting lucky, and that's enough.

I wanted to tell the blonde on the catwalk that it gets better, that as you age and gain independence the unwritten rules that constrain your life will fall away if you let them. But for now, she and her friends at the Biscuits game are still too young to realize only umpires enforce the rules, and everyone hates umpires. 
 

Thursday July 17, 2014: 9:25 p.m.

 We remembered that Central's valet service ended at 10:00 and headed for the gates. I thought we'd left a few minutes too early, but Katie thought the valet was hot and didn't want him to have to wait around all night. I walked out of the stadium toward Central holding my last Jack Daniels because I'm not too old to enjoy a taste of freedom myself, and on the way out the usher doubled me up on hand stamps. After Katie dropped me at home I realized the only thing I'd eaten that night was a bag of peanuts, putting my whiskey to solid food ratio well into the danger zone. My stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the morning was going to be tomorrow. I pulled some leftovers out of the fridge and poured a nightcap, then popped on the internet. I learned the Jackson Generals were from Jackson, Tennessee, not Jackson, Mississippi, and also that the Biscuits lost 8-4. As I drifted off to sleep, I wondered if it was really necessary for the Biscuits to keep score.