A Fan For All Seasons: Since the Twins first came to town, Paula Bishop has been cheering
As you enter the home of Paula Bishop, you’ll quickly catch on to the fact that she is an Elizabethton Twins fan.
A really big fan.
From a refrigerator covered in baseball magnets to a large display case in her bedroom containing many stuffed animals in Twins’ attire, there isn’t a room in the house that doesn’t have Twins memorabilia in it.
For Bishop, the love of baseball started young and was instigated by her father, Paul Bishop, who had a fondness for the game.
“I have always liked baseball,” Bishop said. “My father died when I was 6 years old and, one of the things I remember is sitting down at the old Cherokee field, sitting in his lap and watching baseball. So, I got it honestly from my father.”
Baseball isn’t the only sport Bishop loves. In fact, she loves them all.
She attributes her interest in sports to her attendance at all the local sporting events because her mother, Gertrude “Pete” Bishop, was a teacher at many of the nearby schools.
“She taught at Elizabethton. She taught at Happy Valley. She taught at Cloudland,” said Bishop. “And we went to all the sporting events and everything. I was in the band at Elizabethton, so I made all the football games. So, my life has just always rotated around sports. I don’t play any, but I do love to watch them.”
In 1974 the Twins’ minor league team decided to call Elizabethton home, and with an already established love for baseball and sports, it was natural for Bishop to become a die hard fan.
“When they came I had to go down and get my place on the bleachers,” Bishop said. “I sat on the old wooden bleachers, maybe three rows down from the top, right down below first base.”
Throughout the years, Bishop had a special relationship with the team, partly due to the fact a lot of the players called the apartment above the Bishops’ residence home. During the early years of the Elizabethton Twins, Bishop and her mother would allow the players to rent the top floor of their former home on K Street in downtown Elizabethton.
“Thirty-five dollars is what we charged them,” said Gertrude Bishop. “We didn’t have fast food here at that time, so you know where they ate. And they were supposed to stay upstairs in their apartments, because there was a bedroom, a living room, bath, kitchen, you know, for each one. But they found the door to the downstairs. And in the morning we would get up and there would be somebody’s jacket there and two or three pairs of shoes laid out.”
Many big-name players have stayed with Bishop and her mother – players like Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbeck, and Kirby Puckett. Ray Smith, the current manager of the Twins, also took up residence with the Bishops in 1976 when he was playing minor league ball for Elizabethton, and he has maintained a close relationship with the family ever since.
For Smith, who is from California and had never been in this area, living with the Bishops was one of the best decisions he has made during his career, because, according to him, it allowed him to become acquainted with the area and his new career in baseball.
“It allowed us to settle in and become comfortable with the town and our new profession,” said Smith. “It allowed us to really concentrate on working on our skill levels. So, it was the start of a relationship that has lasted up to this day.”
To Smith, Bishop and her mother were more than just landlords; they were caretakers, providing home-cooked meals and open ears to talk to.
“They didn’t hardly charge us anything,” said Smith. “We had the whole upper level of the house. They would have meals for us when we came back at night, Pete and Paula would. They were both mentors to us. You know, we were just young guys coming up, and they took us under their wing, showing us this part of the country on our days off. And they attended every game at home and a lot of games on the road. So, it was nothing but a positive experience. And it has been great being able to cultivate that friendship. They have been more like family than friends ever since that summer of 1976.”
Today, Bishop is still very much involved with the Twins as she serves on the Twins Baseball Commission, which is something she has been doing for roughly 20 years. Before the start of every season, Bishop helps organize a cookout for all of the Twins players and staff members.
“We give them a picnic the night before the season starts,” said Bishop. “I have done it for years; everyone pitches in. But I am kind of the central person. I have the tablecloth and the salt and pepper shakers. That is my job.”
Looking back at all the games she has attended, Bishop said the one that stands out to her the most is the 2012 Appalachian League Championship game between the Twins and the Burlington Royals. Due to a death in the family, Bishop wasn’t able to attend game two of the championship series, but she made sure to call every few minutes to keep herself updated on the games. With the funeral over in Dunlap, Tenn., Bishop said she rushed home in hopes of catching the last bit of game three.
“If you remember it rained, and the game was delayed,” she said. “We got home, and as I was going through the gate, they were playing the national anthem. So, I said, ‘They waited for me!”’
Throughout the years Bishop has played a many roles for the Twins, from caretaker to serving on the commission. But in the end, the most important role she has played is that of a loyal fan who just loves baseball.
If you happen to make your way to a Twins’ game, you might just see Bishop in the stands with a group of fellow fans referred to as the “Back Row Gang”.
“We are just a group of fans that love to go to the games,” said Bishop. “We just love to cheer on the team and have a good time.”