For the love of Christmas, small-town life … and baseball

Published 2:22 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Buzz Trexler
Star Correspondent

I love Christmas.
I love small-town life.
And I used to love baseball.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’ve lived in cities large and small. A Richmond, Va., native, by the time I was 16 years old I had lived in Orlando, Fla., Miami Springs, Fla., and Newport News, Va.
And then life brought me to Elizabethton.
From that point on – whether I was in the Navy, or working at newspapers in Port Arthur, Texas, Knoxville, or Maryville – when someone asked me, “Where ya from?” I’d tell them, “I was born in Richmond, Virginia, but I claim Elizabethton, Tennessee, as my home.”
They say, “Once you drink mountain water, you’ll always come back.”
I’m living proof.
When I retired as editor of The (Maryville) Daily Times after about 28 years of serving that small-town daily newspaper, my wife and I set our sights on retiring to a renovated family home at Ripshin. Years prior to that, I telegraphed as such to Lynn Richardson, former publisher of The Star, and we stayed in touch. In the 1980s, Lynn and I had served at what was then the Johnson City Press-Chronicle.
Which brings me to Evan Carter – and baseball.
Lynn first made me aware the Elizabethton native had jumped from AA ball to the major leagues by way of the American League Texas Rangers.
She didn’t know it, but baseball was a huge part of our family life until 1994. My grandfather played about a decade or so in the minor leagues and later scouted for the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies. I never played well, but thanks to hanging with Grandpa, I knew a lot about the mechanics of baseball. Still, by the time I landed in Elizabethton … well, let’s just say my attention had gone elsewhere. In Elizabethton, my time wasn’t spent on the diamond; it was largely at a small pool hall downtown.
But while I didn’t follow baseball for years, the love of the game was always just beneath the surface.
After our first child was born, I was working at the Johnson City newspaper when I discovered my wife was a Braves fan. She called the newsroom one night, saying, “Did you see that play?”
I was confused.
“What play?”
“That play in the Braves game. I know y’all have the game on in the newsroom.”
“You’re watching baseball?”
She explained there was nothing else on TV, so she watched Braves baseball during the feeding and caring of our son.
Donna, who had no knowledge of my family’s connection to baseball, drew me back into the game, and we became fervent fans of “America’s Team.”
And then came the strike of 1994. It made us feel as though baseball had left us, so we left the game.
But in May 2022, we came home to Upper East Tennessee.
And in September 2023, we came to know about Evan Carter. It seemed all of Carter County was watching him light up the Texas Rangers.
Lynn said, “He’s such a nice young man, too.”
Donna and I didn’t immediately watch him play. We mainly just watched Lynn on Facebook watching him, but we caught up with him in the World Series.
One night as the game went into extra innings, one of us said, “Can you believe we’re staying up late to watch baseball?”
During our fervent years as Braves fans, it wasn’t unusual at all.
Still, even in my years of following baseball, I don’t think I’ve ever rooted for an American League Team.
The “nice young man” from Elizabethton was having a transforming effect.
(I think the Rangers said that about him, too.)
I was covering the city school board meeting last week when I heard about the “Parade of Champions” honoring both the Elizabethton High School “Betsy Band” and Evan Carter. It was going to take place right after the lighting of the fabled Christmas tree.
Did I mention I love Christmas?
Did I mention I love small-town life?
I put it on my calendar and on Saturday afternoon we headed down the mountain in time to arrive about an hour early.
We parked near the newspaper office, walked to the scene, and stood around with about two dozen people. Early in the evening, most of the attendees were watching the various groups sing from a stage. There was a banner proclaiming, “We Are Carter County Bank” – the longtime sponsor, whom I’m told really steps up to make this event happen year after year.
As the crowd continued to grow, and the sun began to set, performers came and went on the stage, mostly singing the songs of Christmas: period singers from Sycamore Shoals State Park, Harold McCormick Elementary School choir, and (B.A.S.I.C.) Brothers And Sisters In Christ.
Did I mention I love Christmas?
Donna nudged me, “Look what came on,” pointing past the Carter at Main house: It was the Lynn Mountain Christmas tree lighted and the words, “Merry Christmas.”
The Happy Valley High School band performed the National Anthem.
Did I mention I love small-town life?
T.A. Dugger sixth-grader Reece Sheets and Taylor Toth, a seventh-grader who is homeschooled, gave us the history of Elizabethton’s famed Fraser fir.
By the time Carter County Bank President Andrew McKeehan introduced Evan Carter and Carter County Mayor Curt Alexander read the proclamation honoring the young ballplayer’s achievements, the crowd had swelled to the point that it extended from Carter at Main to beyond the Veterans War Monument. From there, it lined downtown streets along the parade route – perhaps as many as 3,000 people.
Evan said the briefest of words, there was a countdown, and the switch was thrown.
The tree sprung to life with lights, there were cheers (there had been plenty throughout the night) and the crowd moved toward the parade route.
As we made our way backward toward our car, we passed those waiting to parade down Elk Avenue.
And at the end of the line – batting cleanup, you might say – there were Evan and Kaylen Carter, sitting in the back of a pickup truck that was bedecked with a sign that read, “Evan Carter.”
I stepped close enough to where he could hear me and as he turned his head, I shouted, “Because of you, I love baseball again!”
Evan said, “That’s awesome!”
He smiled and I grabbed a photo.
What a nice young man.
Did I mention I love baseball?
Did I mention I love Christmas?
Did I mention I love small-town life?
But I still can’t believe I’m rooting for an American League team …

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox