By John Pierce
Friends who join me for an Atlanta Braves game often talk more about the characters they meet at Turner Field than the onfield action. Those of us seated down the left field line know one of those characters as simply “Herman.”
The 76-year-old usher doesn’t need to hit the gym before coming to the ballpark. He spends much of the nine innings (or more on some nights) running up and down the many steps and dancing to the tunes of Thank God I’m a Country Boy and Chattahoochee and whatever song the fans cheered for the loudest that night.
Herman attended so many games years ago that someone suggested he work there. So he took a job in concessions. But it was the role of usher that was right up his alley.
He greets fans with “Welcome to Braves Country!” Pointing one skinny finger to his left and another to right he directs them to their seats: “122, 124…”
Herman confided in me one night that he is no longer responsible for a particular section like the other ushers.
“They think I’m an idiot,” he said of his employers of 28 years. “And they want me to act like one.”
So he dons funny glasses, attempts to start the long-outdated wave and helps vendors advertise their goods.
“Hey,” he says loudly, getting the attention of fans and pointing to the vendor’s strapped-on warming box, “Ten-dollar hot dogs for just five dollars.”
Pretty girls come by for hugs and to have pictures taken with him. Herman smiles and adds that he has been married for 56 years.
Some young men offer to buy a Herman a beer from one of the vendors that he proclaims as “my best friend.”
“I don’t drink it,” he said slowly and appreciatively of the offer. “And if I did they [the Braves] wouldn’t let me.”
Herman often comes over to my corner seat where we talk about the need for a big hit or the size of the crowd or Chipper going out with a bang. But it was not until another fine usher, Debora, shared a recent news story about Herman that I learned his last name and few more details.
According to a Douglasville, Ga., newspaper, Herman Mills has missed only six home games in 28 years. That explains why on his scheduled off night, he was seated down below us — until the music started. Then he was dancing in the aisle.
The article also stated that Herman’s pre-baseball career was as a minister who served rural congregations around Georgia.
I asked him about that and he rattled off the various churches he had served with names like “New Prospect.”
“Baptist churches?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said emphatically. “Someone asked what I’d be if I wasn’t a Baptist — and I said, ‘ashamed.’”
After his feet had stopped flying to the fiddle accompanying John Denver’s classic song played during the seventh-inning stretch, I asked what his deacons would think about their dancing preacher. He smiled and said he’d dealt with such stuff before.
“I tell them: ‘A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones’” (a King James rendering of Proverbs 17:22).
And while Herman has retired from many years of pastoral service to small Baptist congregations his ministry of merriment continues — hopefully well into October. If not, then I’ll be looking for him on opening day next April.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.