Jim Terry enjoys tending batting cages

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Sports Editor

On afternoons at the Troy Sportsplex Jim Terry exchanges dollars for golden coins for children and adults wishing to test their batting skills.

But if you stop in and sit for a few minutes, the 78-year-old will offer you stories for free.

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He sits in a small booth, with a tiny television and radio in one corner, handing out tokens for Troy’s batting cages. $1 will get you one token and 20 pitches. $5 will get you a bargain seven tokens. That’s 140 pitches, enough to strike out over 40 times or drive in over a hundred runs.

Two small boys poke their heads up to the window of the booth with money and Terry hands them a stack of tokens.

"Don’t forget to wear your helmet," he tells them.

Terry’s had this job for four years. He likes it because he says it gives him something to do and helps "stretch that retirement check."

"It breaks the monotony of staying at home and being retired," he says.

Pam Nix, Adult Sports Director of the TPRD, offered Terry the job as soon as he applied for it.

"When we first came out here all we had was a card table and folding chairs," he said. "When they broke the ground for this," he says, referring to his booth, "I sure was happy."

The job is perfectly suited for a retiree. Once one of the yellow balls is pitched, and then hit, it simply rolls down hill and is fed right back into the machines. All Terry does is make sure people have plenty of tokens and that the machines are running properly.

In the summers, he says he’s usually able to pick up a baseball game on his portable television, but prefers to listen to the radio. One station in particular, because it plays the songs he likes.

"People today call it ‘elevator music’," he says. "But it’s the stuff I grew up with."

He’s well over 6-feet tall, but was called "shorty" by his family and friends. He had a 6-foot-5 brother that was killed in the service.

Terry fought in Europe during World War II. He was in General George S. Patton’s Third Army and took part in three campaigns, including the historic Battle of the Bulge, the war’s largest land battle.

He says he watches 1970’s Patton with George C. Scott in the leading role "every time it comes on" television.

"He was a tough old goat," Terry recalls. "I actually met the old fella one time. Everything that’s been written about him is mild compared to how he really was."

Although he received three battle stars, Terry doesn’t like to talk much about the actual fighting he saw against the Germans.

"I’ve seen combat. That’s all I’ll say. It was an education, but it was nothing to write home about."

In 1980, bone cancer took his lower left leg and now he walks with the aid of cane. It also took him away from something he said "was a sin to take money for." Before the amputation, Terry spent most of his fall friday nights as a referee at high school football games.

He points to a picture he has in his booth, hanging just above the television set, of him and a few other officials posing at Enterprise High School’s 1978 homecoming game with the queen and her attendants. He knows all the faces of the men he worked with and the stories behind each. Terry’s the tallest one of the group in the middle.

"All good things must come to an end," he says.

After retiring from the Montgomery Beverage Company, Terry went looking for some part-time work to do. He worked as a grocery bagger at Winn Dixie and then at Troy State’s Lurleen B. Wallace Library as a security guard. He made sure the students weren’t stealing the books.

When the university decided to put electronic monitors at the library’s entrance to guard against theft, Terry was the one that placed the scanner tags in each book’s binding.

All of the books. Over three million.

"It took me over two and a half years," he says.

But when he ran out of books, he also ran out of a job. That’s when he found his way to the Troy Parks and Recreation Department.

Outside, the two boys are practicing their hitting in the cages and Terry reclines in his chair. He knows that things are little slow right now, but it’ll pick up when youth league starts next month and the coaches start directing their players to Terry’s booth. He’ll trade them tokens for money and sell them bottled soft drinks after they get through swinging their bats.

It’ll happen almost like a story Terry relates. He had finished his training in 1944 and was on a boat headed for Europe, when he stopped to talk to a sailor on deck.

"That sure is pretty," said Terry, remarking about how calm the sea was.

"Just you wait," replied the veteran sailor. "We’re going to hit a gale here soon."