It goes without saying that the most popular individual at any Minor League ballpark is the mascot. But within The Ballpark at Jackson, Generals mascot Sarge has formidable competition in the enduring popularity department.
Everybody seems to love Jimmy Barnes, a Jackson native who's worked as a Generals security officer since the 2004 campaign.
During each Generals game, losing participants in one of the on-field contests are awarded a consolation prize in the form of a "The Jimmy Barnes" autographed photo. Meanwhile, Generals PA announcer Dan Reaves occasionally updates fans on the status of the next Jimmy Barnes Fan Club meeting. These meetings never quite seem to happen, but, still, it's the thought that counts.
"I guess I'm popular. I like everyone, you know. We have a real good rapport," said Barnes.
So how did he get to be so popular?
"By being nice to everybody," he said. "I'm friendly with 'em, and enjoy being around 'em."
Barnes first sought employment with the Generals because, as he puts it, "I wanted a part-time job to keep me busy." He had recently retired, having worked 38 years for the United States Postal Service in addition to putting in 21 years of service with the Tennessee National Guard. Barnes was friends with Generals chief of security Robert Jones through their mutual National Guard service, and that connection helped him land a job at The Ballpark of Jackson prior to the 2004 season. (In those days, the stadium was called Pringles Park and the team was called the Diamond Jaxx).
Barnes' time with the National Guard has come in handy in recent seasons, as before every ballgame he chauffeurs Sarge onto the field in a 1963 military Jeep. With this task complete, he returns to the concourse and reassumes his security officer duties.
"The fans are good people, so we very seldom have any problems as far as security goes," he said. "You know, you see the same ticket-holders year after year. And it's nice being in your hometown. I grew up here."
Indeed, Barnes' connection to the Generals goes back to the original incarnation of the franchise. From 1935 through 1942 and again from 1950 through 1954, the Jackson Generals played in the Class D Kitty (Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee) League. Barnes remembers attending games as a youth at Jackson's Municipal Stadium, which was a less-than-ideal location to watch (and play) baseball.
"They played down at the old fairgrounds," said Barnes. "[The park] had an old iron grandstand. It was down in the bottoms, you might say, and at night late, the fog would roll in. And there was a railroad yard there at the time. It was difficult for 'em to play, really.
"We had some local guys that signed with 'em back in those days. When I got to high school, my biology teacher was a pitcher for the Generals."
That pitcher, Bill Chambers, suited up for the Generals during the 1951 and '52 seasons. Barnes himself went on to play baseball later that decade, not on a professional level but as an American serviceman stationed in Japan.
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The name may be the same, but the Generals of today -- a Double-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners -- are a far cry from the Generals of Barnes' youth.
"Well, this is more on a professional level, I'd say, then it was back then," he said. "[The old Generals] didn't have the money and the backing that these guys have. They'd be on the road and their bus would break down on 'em, then they'd miss a ballgame. It was just a different world."
But baseball has remained a constant, and these days it provides Barnes with a post-retirement work environment where friends are plentiful and the jokes fly freely.
"That's a good feeling, to have everybody like you," said Barnes. "To me, it is. It's a real good feeling."
Maybe, one of these days, the Jimmy Barnes Fan Club will actually have its first meeting.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.