Remembering Jimmy Porter

 

What you are about to read is a brief story of a man whose life and influence upon those who knew him personally is beyond measure.  Jimmy Porter was not a celebrity, but in my opinion the memory of such a man should be celebrated and cherished for as long as those who knew him personally are still here to recollect his life and his deeds.

As you are about to read, the name “Jimmy Porter” lives on in my hometown of Carrollton, Texas in the way of a City Park and an annual Civic Award.  I applaud the leaders of Carrollton for continuing to honor him so.  At the same time, I acknowledge and admit that so much time has elapsed since his death (we lost Jimmy 30 years ago this coming December) that the number of those who knew the man, and I mean really KNEW the man is surely dwindling.

Which is one of the reasons I repost this article (which I have slightly modified this year) every February on my blog and on my Facebook page.  But it is more than that.  Much more than that. Unfortunately I don’t know that the words exist which can adequately express my deepest felt reasons for wanting people to read of the life of Jimmy Porter and to recollect his deeds. I guess it is simply this:

Jimmy Porter was one of the finest human beings that I personally have ever met.  He personified in “living color” (no pun intended) what it is be HUMAN.  To socialize, to relate to his fellow human being, to love, to care, to enjoy life even though he lived in poverty, to care, to care…. I mean to really, truly care about his fellow human being.

In my opinion, Jimmy Porter lived THE SPIRIT of humanity.

The attached picture, taken by a fellow Carrollton resident Kerry Carloy (Texfstop), is in my judgment one of the most real to life photos which so vividly represent Jimmy Porter.  He is pictured here in 1982 wearing a St Louis cap (fitting; as he played baseball in St Louis in the 1920’s), worn blue jeans, and his stereotypical easy going, friendly smile.  Thank you Kerry for capturing this image of this wonderful man a mere two years before he passed away:

Jimmy Porter

And so as I prepare to share again “The Story of Jimmy Porter”,  I simply want everyone to know as you read these words, that you are reading a brief description of a man who REALLY knew what life was truly about.  And lived it.

And so in honor of Black History Month, and in memory of an old friend; I once again share “The Story of Jimmy Porter”:

Approximately a mile South of the George Bush Tollway in Carrollton, Texas; immediately south of the railroad tracks as they cross Josey Lane, there is a City Park where young girls and boys play Little League Baseball and where families entertain their children on pleasant weekend afternoons.  This certain park has been a source of such leisure for over 40 years.

Near the Concession Stand, a plaque records a brief history of the establishment of the park and features an engraved image of its namesake. The bronze image has faded with time, in fact the smiling face is barely visible. Albeit the engraved image has faded, the image of Jimmy Porter is indelibly stamped within the memory of every person who grew up in Carrollton, Texas during the mid to latter 1900′s. When I stand before that fading bronze image of an elderly black man wearing a baseball cap, my mind drifts back to a time when there was no such place as the “Jimmy Porter Park”. I recollect a time when an elderly black man, wearing dirty blue jeans and a faded work shirt, soaked with sweat, would be seen walking down Perry Road carrying several wooden baseball bats upon his shoulder, headed in the direction of the baseball backstop of Carrollton Elementary. On his balding head was any one of several stained baseball caps, and attached to his bats were several old baseball gloves. At his side, he carried a bag of well worn but still useful baseballs.  His slow but steady gait was that of a man who was intent on a mission. For Jimmy Porter; whose daily duties when I knew him consisted of mowing lawns and doing general labor, everyday was a quest. For whenever this elderly black gentleman was seen walking with bats over shoulders in the direction of town; everyone knew that Jimmy Porter was ready…. for that next “pick up” baseball game….

It was the Summer of 1969.  Nixon was in the White House, the Soldiers were in Vietnam, the Hippies were at Woodstock, Neil Armstrong was on the moon, and Major League Baseball was celebrating its 100th birthday.  I recollect somewhat of those national events, but frankly I did not care.  I was a typical 8 year old who was just glad to be out of school for Summer Break!

It was the Summer of 1969 when I first met Jimmy Porter.  At that time, he was just the nice old black man who played ball with all we locals at the backstop of Carrollton Elementary.  Although he was not there every day, when he was there all the neighborhood kids would congregate like parishioners at church for our religious practice of  “pick up” baseball with this old black man who we simply called “Jimmy”.  (A few years later I learned that Jimmy operated somwhat of a “circuit” in order to accommodate us all.  Some days he was at the backstop of Central Elementary to play ball with the kids in south Carrollton and north Farmers Branch.  Other days he was at the backstop of Good Elementary to play ball with the children of North Carrollton.  And then there were the days that he was at the backstop of Carrollton Elementary, which was just down the street from where I lived).

Little did I realize at that time just how influential this man would prove to be in my life.  Nor could I even perceive of the influence that he would have on the lives of all the children of my hometown.  Most of all, I simply had no concept in the Summer of 1969 of the history of the nice old black man that we kids simply called “Jimmy”…..

Jimmy Porter came to Carrollton in the 1920′s after a brief career as a Negro League baseball player in St. Louis. Jimmy; who had been born in Tennessee in1900, arrived in town unemployed and uneducated. In consideration of the times; he seemed destined for a life of poverty and obscurity. Although Jimmy was poor;he was anything but obscure. Jimmy Porter would become the best known and most loved man in Carrollton, Texas! He lead parades; was the namesake of the aforementioned Jimmy Porter Park; appeared on television, and even received a house from local businessmen before his days were done! The account of the events which lead this young, unemployed black man to be honored as Carrollton’s most celebrated personality is the story of Jimmy Porter….

Shortly after his arrival in the 1920’s, Jimmy formed a black semipro baseball team known as The Carrollton Cats. He played for the Cats for several years, until they eventually disbanded. Yet he continued to promote the game he loved so dearly. In fact; eventually Jimmy helped to influence city leaders to found, and was himself a coach in the Carrollton Little League. Even after his “official” coaching days ended, he continued to teach children the game of baseball by way of informal“pick up” games. EVERYONE was welcome to play baseball with Jimmy Porter! Boys and girls of all ages would participate in the grand ole game under the supervision of this kindly old gentleman. The games were casual. Jimmy selected the teams; and he always made sure the youngest and the smallest got to bat first. He even provided the equipment. The wooden bats usually had nails driven through the barrel due to cracks; the baseballs were worn; and most his gloves were left-handed; but everyone was welcome to use his supplies. Jimmy usually did all the pitching; and he definitely did all the umping.  At the end of the game; every child left with a hug from the kindly old man.

Jimmy was a role model to the children who idolized him. He had a gift for making every child, regardless of skill or lack of athleticism, feel special. As time went by, the children who adored him grew to become the citizens of the city he had embraced so many years before. Every year; he rode in the front of the firetruck that lead the Opening Day ceremonies of the Carrollton Little League. He grinned and waved as he tossed candy to the children who ran down the street yelling his name. His attendance at any Little League game was an honor for the children, and obviously was a joy to the aging Jimmy. He was always allowed a select seat directly behind homeplate, and was well known during the games to verbally encourage each batter. Whenever a player got a hit; Jimmy would wave his cap and holler in approval. Just as he had done in his “pick up”games; Jimmy made each child feel like the star of the game.

In time, Jimmy became the most celebrated citizen in town. In 1973 Jimmy Porter Park was constructed and dedicated in his honor. The monument with his picture (now badly faded) was erected there in 1975. Furthermore, a beautiful oil painting of Jimmy was displayed in the Carrollton Community Center. In 1977; Jimmy, who had no children of his own, was awarded a lifetime membership by the Texas PTA. Furthermore, Jimmy appeared as a guest on the Today Show in 1982. As his health declined, several local citizens; many of whom had grown up playing baseball with Jimmy; had a one bedroom house built for the elderly Porter. Jimmy, who at one time had lived in an abandoned railroad car on the North edge of town, moved into his new home in 1983. He lived there for the brief duration of his life.

Jimmy Porter died on December 11, 1984. His modest gravestone features 2 baseball bats crossed at the barrel. Every year the city of Carrollton presents a citizen who excels in community service with The Jimmy Porter Award. Those who actually knew the man remember his passion for baseball and life; and his compassion for one and all. Such was the life of Jimmy Porter….

Jimmy Porter; b Sept 2, 1900 (Tennessee)

d Dec 11, 1984 (Texas)

I dont get back to Carrollton much these days. But when I do, I make the effort to visit the grave of my old friend. His final resting place is but a few steps from Perry Road, where I often saw him walking, bats over his shoulder, heading towards the backstop of the playground of Carrollton Elementary…. on a quest for that next “pick up” baseball game…

(My thanks again to Kerry Carloy for the delightful photo of our beloved Jimmy Porter: https://www.flickr.com/people/texfstop/)

 

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30 thoughts on “Remembering Jimmy Porter

  1. I met Jimmy in the early 60s. At that time he only had one glove and it was for the wrong hand. He would pitch to us and then put the glove on. None of us were fortunate enough to have extra gloves ourselves. He lived then in a caboose in the woods near the field. I would sometimes eat with him. I still remember distinctly the smell inside his caboose. Not unpleasant, but different. There was a lot of love in that place and in that man. None of us ever knew his last name until the community took notice of Jimmy.

  2. Although I am a bit older than the author, I was also one of the Porter kids. I also grew up two blocks from Carrollton Elementary (Baxley Street to be precise), so I can’t help but wonder who you are. We were obviously neighbors…in the event I never learn your identity, I will offer “good article”. You knocked one out of the park. Jimmy would be proud.
    It has been a long time since I made it back to Carrollton…it is a long ways from California, but I will have to say that Jimmy lives on in my memory & likely always will.
    Have a great forever,
    Dave

    • I grew up the next street over from Baxley. Spring Ave. Very near where the “T” intersection of Santa Rosa. More specifically our house was the 3rd house East of the Carrollton Elementary playground, on the same side of the street (South). My name is Dave Henderson. We lived there 1963-1978. (Carrollton Elem: 1967-1973, DeWitt Perry Jr High: 1973-1975; Newman Smith High: 1975-1978). I dont recall your last name. Of course, “Dave” is a common name for common dudes, right! About to send you an email at the address so noted. Thanks for your kind comments Dave! Dave Henderson

      • I also grew up on Spring. The first house east of Carrollton Elementary playground, on the same side. I do remember Jimmy very well, thanks for bringing back old memories. I am a few years younger than you but I would not be suprised if you knew one of my brothers.

      • I not only remember you, but I remember when you were born! You were one of the first “newcomers” to the block! I know your brothers, I am a year older than Jeff. Sean was a few years younger, and you of course even more so. My Father and your Father were very good friends, as we lived two doors apart and they both worked at TI.

        As to Jimmy Porter, I actually MET him at the baseball backstop that was right next to your house. LITERALLY a stones throw from your house in that if you stood in your back yard and threw a rock (or a baseball as it were) toward the Carrollton Elementary playground, it would likely land on that baseball backstop.

        Small world. Great to hear from you Jason.

        Dave Henderson

      • Really is a small world, I wonder if that old back stop is still there… , Sad to say I lost my Father almost 2 years ago or I would ask him about our old neighbors. My Mom still lives in Carrollton just a few miles from Spring. I think next visit I will swing by to see how things have changed.

  3. Your article gave me goose bumps. I remember Jimmy meeting us on the playground during recess at Central Elementary. He would be waiting for us when the doors opened, and you are so right that every child was welcome to play (even girls). I remember seeing him walking down Josey Lane or Perry Road with a couple of bats over his shoulder. And I remember trying to explain Jimmy Porter to my son, when he played his Little League games at Jimmy Porter Park. What a wonderful memory you invoked, of a wonderful man and of growing up in Carrollton, TX. Well done!

    • Thank you Marcia.

      You know, quite a few years ago I met a young man who had just moved to Grayson County who I found out was from Carrollton. He had grown up playing baseball at Jimmy Porter Park, but had no clue who he was (he knew of him from the bronze plaque). That young man was my inspiration for writing the article about Jimmy (I initially wrote it several years ago, long before I even had email. Hand wrote it in a notebook originally). Anyway,I was determined to do what I could to “keep Jimmy alive” as much as I could. At least for residents of Carrollton. I think it is wonderful that you told your son about Jimmy. Those who never knew him can truly realize just how special of a person that he was, but his legacy is still worthy of being passed along from generation to generation.

      Thank you so much for your kind words!

      Dave Henderson

  4. Jimmy Porter, A man with so little, that gave so much!! What a man. What a tribute to him & to Carrollton. Hometown love.

    • Lynda,

      I am a year late on this. It appears I did not reply to your comment. Your brief statement “Jimmy Porter, A man with so little, that gave so much!!” would be as concise and as fitting of a description of the man we all adored as anything I can think of.

      Thank you, and “Hometown love” your way, to you and to yours!!

  5. Hello, I just read your article and really enjoyed it. I was 9 years old when I moved to Carrolton in 1980 and remember seeing Jimmy ride his three wheeled bicycle to the park to watch us practice football and baseball. We always felt a sense of pride when he was watching and cheering. Like your article says he was very nice and always made you feel good.

  6. I had dinner with my three baseball playing sons last night and for some reason, Jimmy Porter came to mind. I had briefly mentioned Jimmy to them before, but for the first time decided to tell them his whole story. I googled him, and came across this piece.

    I grew up in Carrollton, went to Carrollton Elementary, DeWitt Perry, and RLTurner. Walnut Street was my address. Past the two church yards was Carrollton Elementary and that backstop others have mentioned. Then Spring, then Baxley, then Hood, then Gravely streets. Me and my Schwinn new those streets well. I loved reading this retrospective on Jimmy Porter. Brought back all the memories of heading off with my neighborhood friends to “see if Jimmy was around”, either at that backstop, or the one further down by Perry Road, or if maybe we could find him walking with those bats and gloves slung over his shoulder. He’d pitch and we’d hit and run around and it was the greatest time. Before too long, Jimmy would be on the sidelines, watching us play baseball and laughing like he always did. If he showed up at Thomas Park while you were playing a little league game, it was unreal and you’d always try a little harder with Jimmy there.

    My kids were amazed that my mom would allow us to hang around and play with a man 60 years our senior – like it could probably never happen in today’s world. A guy like Jimmy would not be allowed the free roam that he enjoyed back then. But he was a staple of the town. And times and towns were simpler then. Too bad some things have to change – that my kids baseball experience has been fully structured, with league and travel teams and tremendous levels adult interference. Jimmy never interfered. He was the reason we played – not a necessary level of

    I think its no mystery why Turner and later Smith high schools enjoyed unique baseball success in the 70’s and early 80’s. Jimmy taught us how to play the game. But more than that – Jimmy taught us how to love the game. I’m sure that is true for many if not all of us, who set off on our bikes on countless afternoons in search of Jimmy Porter. I’m glad his legacy lives on in my hometown of Carrollton.

    I don’t live in the Dallas area anymore, but the next time I return I will make it a point to head over to the Hilltop Cemetery on Perry Road and place a well worn baseball on the grave of the man who knew us all as his “little friends”.

  7. ave, You may remember me. We played little league ball together. I think my dad coached us one year with Bob Parker, with whom I still see occasionally. I was one of those Central kids that benefitted from Jimmy’s toolage. The thing that stands out to me the most about Jimmy was that he not only taught the game, but taught HOW TO PLAY the game. From sportsmanship to gamesmanship, he did more for our city as an example to live by the way he honored the game. EVERY kid that I knew growing up loved and adored him. Hewas constantly offered rides to get around town but he always humbly declined. He was nothing short of a very great man and a beautiful human being.

    Jeff Rutherford

    • Jeff,
      I am holding in my hands (well, I set it down to type this reply) a Rawlings baseball with the date 6-13-72 written on it by my then 12 year old hand. It contains the signatures of a whole team of kids and was presented to me as a game ball from that night. Bob Parker’s name is in big bold letters. He was my dad’s insurance agent for years (until my dad passed away in 2004). Your dad signed “Coach Rutherford” on the ball, and there are 12 player signatures.

      There isn’t a “Jeff” on the ball, but there is a Randy R. signed right above “Coach Rutherford”. Your brother perhaps?? For some reason, I think he played 2nd base.

      Keith

      • That’s funny!!! Well, so happens that my middle name is Randall and I think it was about that time I even realized my first name was Jeffrey. I went by Randy most all of my childhood. Bob Parker still lives in Carrollton, just farther north. He still doing the insurance thing. Bobby Steitz is still around too and He STILL playing and coaching.

  8. I grew up on Terry Way in Carrollton in the late 60’s. At that time Terry Way was the northern most neighborhood in town. There was a large open field to the north of my backyard. Jackson Road was the northern border of the field. Jimmy lived in a small house on the north side of Jackson. When I looked out the back window of my house I could see Jimmys place. I recall my mom and other ladies from our neighborhood taking Jimmy goodies at Christmas. I too remember the scent of Jimmy’s home. It is hard to describe but if it could be bottled you could sell it. I later moved to Baxley Dr. I lived in the fourth house from Josey on the south side. I played in some of Jimmys pick-up games at Carrollton Elem. and distinctly remember feeling excited when Jimmy would be behind homeplate at some of my little league games. My most vivid memory of Jimmy was his smile and the leathery feel of his hand when we would shake hands at the end of a game.

    • Kevin,

      Thank you for the read, and for the comments.

      I remember you well from when you lived on Baxley. I grew up on Spring Ave. As I recall your father was involved in Carrollton city politics (Councilman? Mayor?) You are a bout two years younger than me

      Good to talk to an old acquaintance from Carrollton!

      David Henderson (had a younger sister named Donna, closer to you in age than myself)

  9. I too knew Jimmy porter as a child. I remember playing in one of the Carrollton parks and Jimmy showing up with his bag over his shoulder and a baseball game would break out. I was also 8 in 1969. I don’t see the name of the person that wrote this anywhere. I graduated from turner high school in 1979.

      • I went to Carrollton elem and DeWitt perry then graduated from turner in 1979. I live in Florida now. A lot of my friends from perry ended up at smith. It opened my sophomore year. Did you know a football player named Tim Liberto?

  10. Hi Dave! Love this. Jimmy Porter was indeed a Carrollton icon, and the closest thing we had to a celebrity at the time. I grew up on Baxley, and my mom taught for many years at Carrollton Elem. I was friends with your sister, Donna. My brother, Mike, would be closer to your age. We were just now sitting here with my mom (and my dad, who is in his final hours), and we thought of JP. Google led us here. Thank you for helping us with our little trip down Memory Lane. God bless you!

      • I remember you well. I actually had you figured out as being Cheryl Hawkins as soon as you said you grew up on Baxley and had a brother named Mike. I recall that you lived on the corner of Baxley and Santa Rosa; almost due North of our house. I will tell my sister Donna you commented on this post. Great to hear from you, and thanks for the kind words regarding my memories of our beloved “Jimmy”. He was a wonderful person, from a most memorable time!!!

        Dave Henderson

  11. I was born on 1956 which its me about 5 years older than you. Jimmy would walk up Crosby Rd where I lived just across the street from Turner. We would always go with him till we go lots of kids both boys and girls and went to Turner not field and play for hours. We all had sooooo much fun, I just loved him. Rest in peace Jimmy!!!

    • Thank you for your read and your comment Debbie.

      I take it from your description, that you lived on Crosby Rd itself. You then would have been a few houses West of the Church of Christ that sat on the corner of Crosby and Josey? I went to school with a guy named Cantrell that lived in that vacinity. I am fairly certain his name was Doug Cantrell, though my memory is lacking.

      You may have gone to RLT with my sister Phyllis Henderson (born in 1956; Class of 1975)

      Your description of those days with Jimmy is spot on:

      We did have soooooo much fun!!!! Wonderful to have been a part of it!!!

      Have a great day; and thanks again for your read and for your comment!!

  12. It’s great to see this article and that someone is keeping this memory alive. My brothers and I did a lot of growing up in Carrollton, a much simpler time and place, and we lived first on Random Rd and I went to Carrollton Elementary. We later moved to Milam Circle and then went to Central Elementary. Junior High was spent at DeWitt Perry. My older brothers graduated from RLT. I have many memories of playing ball with Jimmy and my oldest brother was especially close to him and was totally distraught at the news of his passing. My Dad played semi pro ball and understood the love that Jimmy had for the game and made sure we all had gloves for the impromptu games that would happen around the neighborhood. Mom would be in the kitchen and see him walking down the road and say “There’s Jimmy” and push us all out the front door. Everyone got to play and he put on great show while pitching and calling the game. I grew up playing ball in the neighborhood sports complex behind what is now Jimmy Porter Park and learned how to swim at the pool there taking lessons from the Red Cross. I to remember the Caboose he lived in and that our folks would help to make sure he had plenty of wood and supplies for the cold winters.
    I can remember one time my brothers and I had stopped by and his favorite rooster got a little full of himself and kicked a hole in one of his cook pots and made him a little ticked off. He said “Stop by later. I’m having chicken dinner tonight”.
    This article helps bring back some of the fond memories of growing up there like how 50 cents got you a days worth of entertainment at the Plaza theater downtown, Sandy Lake, The many hours spent in the library and community center on Crosby and how a bicycle was able to expand your horizons.
    People just don’t get it when try to explain how we learned the game of baseball from a old black man. Guess that sort of thing shouldn’t happen in this day and age but he not only taught us the game, he imparted his love of the game on us all.

    RIP Jimmy

    A Humanist Perspective indeed.

    I noticed that your link to his pic is broken. The link below is how I remember Jimmy:

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