THE LAWYER OF SUMMER
In honor of the opening of the 2015 major league baseball season this week, I am republishing today the following article from my 2000 book, In Search of Hamilton Burger: The Trials and Tribulations of a Southern Lawyer.
On a warm spring day in May of 1972, Allie Prescott took the mound at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. He was number 65 in the resplendent white and red uniform of his all-time favorite team, the beloved St. Louis Cardinals.
It was a moment Allie had dreamed about since he was six years old and was the starting pitcher for the Prescott Memorial Baptist Church Little League team.
Growing up in the Berclair neighborhood of Memphis, Allie had dreamed time and time again that this moment in his life would someday come.
He dreamed about it during his years as a pitcher at Kingsbury High School.
He dreamed about it during the four years he played baseball for Memphis State, becoming an All-Missouri Valley Conference pitcher.
And he even dreamed about it during his three years at Memphis State University Law School.
There had been moments along the way when he felt the dream was about to come true. There was that moment when he was a high school senior at Kingsbury and was offered a contract by the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles didn’t offer much money, only a chance to pursue his dream. But as a high school senior, Allie had thought that the best way to pursue his dream was to accept a baseball scholarship to Memphis State. To Allie, it was only a dream delayed, not a dream declined.
He had thought the dream was coming true during his senior year at Memphis State, when he received yet another professional baseball contract offer, this time from the San Diego Padres. But again, he hadn’t been offered much money, only a chance to play the game he loved. He had been accepted to Memphis State University Law School, and that offer frankly looked more realistic and more lucrative than the offer from the Padres.
But now, at long last, it seemed that his dream was about to be realized. Allie really was there on the mount at Busch Stadium, just as he had always dreamed he would be.
There was only one catch. The stands were empty. There was no million dollar infield standing behind Allie as he stood atop the pitcher’s mound. Directly behind him, center field was absolutely empty. Curt Flood was nowhere in sight.
The only ball players on the field were Allie, Cardinal utility catcher Bart Zeller, and Cardinals coach Vic Davilio.
It was not a major league baseball game. It was a tryout.
Allie was completing his final year at Memphis State University Law School. He was just days away from graduation, and was planning on joining a Memphis law firm. And then, he got a call from St. Louis.
Allie had been dating Kathy Sisler. Kathy’s daddy was Dick Sisler, the legendary major league baseball player and a coach for the St. Louis Cardinals.
So here was the situation when Allie took the mound. His girlfriend had called her daddy who agreed to give Allie a tryout and a chance to make a dream come true.
For thirty minutes, Allie pitched to Vic Davilio while Coach Sisler looked on. Allie showed Sisler all the stuff he had developed since his years on the Memphis sandlots. He showed Sisler the fast ball he used to strike out the side against the Alta Vista Cardinals. He showed him the curve ball he had used against Treadwell and Overton High Schools.
He threw the slider that had led the Tigers to a victory over Louisville in Missouri Valley Conference play a few years earlier.
After a half hour of heat, the tryout ended. Allie Prescott, third year law student, was about to get the verdict. Judge Sisler ruled quickly. “Son,” he said. “If you want a chance to play, we’ll sign you. But I’ve got to be honest with you. You’ve got good stuff, but I don’t think it’s good enough stuff. You’ll play some in the minors, but I don’t think you’ll ever be back here.”
Allie left Busch Stadium that day and headed back to Memphis to be a lawyer.
Minor league ballplayers have long referred to a brief appearance in the major leagues as “a cup of coffee.” Allie hadn’t had a cup. He only had a sip.
Seven years later, Allie was practicing law on the 25th floor of the One Hundred North Main Building in downtown Memphis as an associate with the firm of Thomason, Crawford & Hendrix. He was engaged to be married, but not to Kathy Sisler. He had found the real love of his life, other than baseball. Barbara Unger. He was getting ready to walk down the aisle, and he was prepared to spend his career as a trial lawyer.
And then, baseball called again. This time the call came from his old friend Dean Jernigan, then executive vice President for Fogleman Properties. Dean’s boss, Avron, was the owner of the Memphis Chicks, the AA farm club of the Kansas City Royals. Dean asked Allie if he would agree to become general manager of the Chicks.
For several days, Allie struggled to make a decision. He had spent the last decade of his life in law, first as a law student, and then as a young lawyer establishing his career.
But he had already said “no” to baseball two times in his life. And he didn’t want to say no again.
Allie went to his then senior partner, Frank Crawford, (later presiding judge of the Western Section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals.) He asked Frank what he should do. Allie would never forget Frank’s response. “Go pursue your Walter Mitty dream, son,” Frank advised him. “If it doesn’t work out, you are always welcome back here.”
For three years, Allie was general manager of the Memphis Chicks. They were the glory years in the history of the Chicks franchise, as record crowds packed Tim McCarver Stadium.
In 1981, Allie was named by the Sporting News (“the Bible of baseball”) as the minor league executive of the year.
Allie again was dreaming of the big leagues, hoping for the opportunity to be the general manager of a major league team.
And then, Allie and his bride had a little boy, Allie Prescott IV.
With no major league offers in sight and a growing family to feed, Allie decided it was time to return to law practice.
For over a year, Allie tried to establish a law practice as a sports agent representing professional athletes.
But Allie was restless and frustrated. He realized it would take years to establish himself as a sports agent, and his heart really wasn’t in it.
His heart was still on that pitcher’s mound in St. Louis. His heart was still with those hot summer nights at the ballpark with peanuts and popcorn and the organ playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch.
In 1984, Allie left law practice, and for the next 12 years, he devoted himself to public service, serving first as the executive director of the Memphis Park Commission, and then as executive director of the Memphis Metropolitan Interfaith Association, an ecumenical city-wide ministry for the poor. They were rewarding years for Allie and his family, particularly the years at Metropolitan Interfaith.
And then, in the fall of 1996, Allie got another call from his old friend Dean Jernigan. It wasn’t just Jernigan calling. It was baseball calling, once again.
Jernigan, now the chief executive officer of Storage U.S.A., a Fortune 500 corporation, had a dream. He wanted to bring Triple A baseball to Memphis. Jernigan called Allie, just as if he were Tony LaRusso summoning a relief pitcher from the bullpen. Jernigan asked Allie, “If I can get Memphis a new Triple A team, would you come back as general manager?”
For the fourth time in his life, baseball was calling Allie Prescott. For the second time in his life, Allie said yes.
In the winter of 1997, Memphis was awarded a AAA franchise, the new Memphis Redbirds.
And shortly thereafter, the new owners of the team, Christy and Dean Jernigan announced that they were going to build a beautiful new ballpark in downtown Memphis.
For the past three years, Allie has been more than just general manager for the Redbirds. He has been a visionary for his hometown, pursuing his dream of a ballpark that is more than just an athletic facility. It is a centerpiece for the renaissance and development of downtown Memphis.
On April 1, 2000, Allie Prescott was back on the field with the St. Louis Cardinals. But this time, he wasn’t at Busch Stadium. He was on the beautiful new diamond of Autozone Park in downtown Memphis for the park’s dedication ceremonies before the Cardinals played the Redbirds in an exhibition game.
Allie wasn’t on the mound that day. But he was still pursuing his dream, just as he did on that warm spring day in 1972.
Finally, a postscript … Allie Prescott IV now attends Tulane University. Not surprisingly, he is a starting pitcher for the Tulane Green Wave.
On warm summer nights the two Allies, father and son, often sit together at the ballpark. From time to time, Allie the Dad gives his boy a little fatherly advice. It is simple and to the point: “I tell him,” says Allie, “that he should always pursue his dreams. I tell him life is short. Don’t rush things … Be happy.”