When Paul Buchanan's at a Kannapolis Intimidators game, very few people refer to him by his given name. They just call him the "Uh-Huh Guy."
And if you happen to be at a Kannapolis Intimidators game on a night when the Uh-Huh Guy is in attendance, you won't have any questions as to who he is or where he might be. You couldn't miss him, even if you wanted to. The Uh-Huh Guy wears an "Uh-Huh" hat and an "Uh-Huh" T-shirt (both custom made), and punctuates his ear-splitting ballpark cheers and jeers with his signature phrase of -- you guessed it -- "Uh-huh!" And throughout the ballgame, it's not just the Uh-Huh Guy's voice that travels. He always wears a glove and is always on the move, pacing the concourse in a constant pursuit of foul balls.
I visited the Intimidator's home of CMC-Northeast Park on Tuesday, June 10. A brief but powerful thunderstorm had delayed the start of that evening's game against the Savannah Sand Gnats, and once it got underway, the atmosphere was quiet and convivial. It was "Senior Night" at the ballpark, the between-innings entertainment devoted to an ongoing game of bingo. The "Uh-Huh Guy" was sensitive to this muted atmosphere, telling me "I was talking to Brad Smith -- he's the owner of the Intimidators -- and I toned it down for his sake because it's a small crowd. Now, you'll hear me rub it in. If they make a mistake I'll rub it in on Savannah."
Boy, will he ever. Feeling that it was my journalistic duty to witness the Uh-Huh Guy in action, I asked if he would engage in some of his trademark heckling. He gladly obliged, turning his attention toward the field and yelling "Ain't nothin' good ever come out of Georgia! Go get 'em, uh-huh!"
There wasn't a single person in the ballpark who didn't hear him, and not everyone seemed to appreciate his unique way of expressing himself. A groan rose up from the crowd in response to his outburst, the audible equivalent of an eye roll, but nonetheless many fans echoed his call of "Uh-huh" with an "Uh-huh" of their own. It's a Kannapolis ritual.
I spent the next inning of the ballgame interviewing the Uh-Huh Guy, who, believe it or not, is a retired educator who spent 38 years in the Charlotte, North Carolina, public school system, teaching for 20 years and serving as an assistant principal for 18. Perhaps "interview" isn't quite the right word, as our conversation was more of an extended exercise in me trying to follow both the Uh-Huh Guy's ever-shifting train of thought as well as his ever-shifting strategic location within the ballpark. As our conversation began, a right-handed batter was up, so we stood on the first-base side of the concourse in the hopes that a foul ball might come our way.
"In 2005, I started coming out here to games, and it wasn't good enough to yell 'Sit 'em down!' or 'Base hit 'em!'" explained the Uh-Huh Guy, who is also a regular at UNC Charlotte baseball games. "I had to put an explanation mark on it, and it happened to be 'Uh-Huh!'"
The Uh-Huh Guy wears his signature "Uh-Huh" t-shirt to every game. It includes three definitions of "Uh-Huh."
- Paul Buchanan's spirited expression of life!
- Used to express agreement or positive affirmation.
The message "You bring life to this place… Uh Huh!" is inscribed beneath the definitions, with John 10:10 below that. For those not up on their biblical scripture, John 10:10 reads, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
"A Charlotte Observer reporter came out here one night and she wanted to do a story on me. This is before I even had the shirts and the hats," said the Uh-Huh Guy. "So I told my sister about it and she created this definition, because 'Uh-Huh' is not in the dictionary. She showed up here with 50 shirts and gave 'em all out. Now I've given over 2,000 shirts away. I sold one, one time, and felt so bad that I gave the guy his money back the next day."
In addition to giving away T-shirts, the Uh-Huh Guy gives away foul balls. But in order to give them away, you've got to get them first.
"One of the things I do is stir up kids and teach 'em to get foul balls," said the Uh-Huh Guy. "I tell them that they've got to watch out for the balls. I've been hit 47 times since 2005. This year I'm up to 70 [foul balls]. I've caught six in the air and I give 'em all away. Last year I had 171 and caught 22 in the air. Two years ago I had I think 144 and caught 24."
The Uh-Huh Guy sees his quest for foul balls as part of his overall mission to bring life to the ballpark. But there are some who have taken issue with his unbridled enthusiasm, and throughout our conversation he brings up, unprompted, a ballpark incident that clearly infuriated him. While attending a college game, he was accused of knocking over kids in order to get a ball.
"A policeman came over and said, 'If I see you knock over one more kid, I will arrest you.' And I said, 'No problem! I haven't knocked over the first one!"
As he spoke, a left-handed batter came up. "C'mon, Ben, we've got to hurry!" said the Uh-Huh Guy, ushering me to the third-base side of the concourse. Once we'd reached our new foul ball snagging location, his story resumed.
"I worked in the schools for 38 years -- I know a little bit about liability! I said that I hadn't knocked over anybody and all the security guys had my back.
"I've got my haters -- they don't like my enthusiasm," he continued. "But don't let anyone steal your joy. I love getting foul balls and giving them to kids."
And with that he was gone again, as a right-handed batter had come to the plate. Outside of a passing 'Hello' on the concourse, I didn't talk to the Uh-Huh Guy again that evening. But I sure did hear him, as his "spirited expression of life" is impossible not to hear.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.