BY MATT LaWELL
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama | During the few minutes every day that he sits behind his colorfully cluttered desk, Buck Rogers is maybe nine feet from his wife, Babs. Close enough to throw ideas and baseballs around a wall inside Joe Davis Stadium. Close enough, too, to get sick of each other some days.
Just not close enough for Buck to remember when they walked down the aisle.
“How long have we been married?” he asks, eyebrows arched. “Twentysome years? Twenty-three, 24 years? I can’t tell you.”
Buck is the general manager of the Huntsville Stars. Babs, his wife since some year or another in the late 1980s, is the assistant general manager. They work as close as any couple can outside of their home, and they have now with three teams stretched across the Southeast.
“We work together during the day, we’re married at night. It has to be that way." — Huntsville GM Buck Rogers
“When I was in Daytona, she used to come from her doctor’s office — she used to file claims, all that kind of stuff — around 5 at night, when the whole staff would walk out the door. I was doing group sales, faxing, making phone calls, leaving voice messages, and she would come over and help. Then she got the system down, and she’s working in a doctor’s office and I’m getting calls saying, ‘Hey, is Babs there?’ Well, how do you say she doesn’t work here?
“She was booking more sales than our group sales department because she was really hustling.”
Those night shifts led to an eventual switch from the medical world to the baseball world and the Daytona Cubs. That was a decade ago.
Their marriage started years before that, during Buck’s years with the U.S. Army, a member of the 82nd Airborne who still talks with pride about his service. A parachuting accident sent him to the hospital and ended his military career — he and another parachuter tangled in the air, held aloft by Buck’s chute, the other tangled around them, before they thudded to ground and temporarily paralyzed Buck — and opened the door of his second career.
Buck started with the Cape Fear Crocs of the Low-A South Atlantic League, then moved Babs and their daughters from North Carolina to Florida and the Daytona Cubs of the High-A Florida State League. He planned wild promotions and carried them out in a city that loves NASCAR and baseball. Then they did it together. They found a way to get men in dresses for cheap beer. They made an average fan into a rock star for a night. They gave away a car.
After that, some years together with the Brevard County Manatees in the FSL and, for the last four years, the Stars. How do they make it work?
“We work together during the day, we’re married at night,” Buck says. “It has to be that way. We have to be able to separate personal life from professional life. But it’s hard sometimes. There are couples who can’t work together. You’re going to league meetings together, you’re going to Winter Meetings together. There are very few times we do our own things.”
“Once you’re at work, it’s business,” Babs says. “But when the Jeep lands at home in the garage, it’s no more baseball.”
Time for minor league trivia. For more than 27 years now, the Huntsville Stars have played their home games at Joe W. Davis Municipal Stadium, referred to as The Joe. So, who was Joe Davis? (Keep reading for the answer.)
The Stars rallied to win one of the more memorable Southern League games of this young season, 5-4 over the Jackson Generals, thanks to two singles, a double and a mistake of a stolen base. Down a run in the bottom in the ninth, catcher Jason Jaramillo led off with a double to left, then designated hitter Domnit Bolivar singled to right. Just like that, the Stars had runners on the corners and no outs against Generals closer Carson Capps. Matt Cline came in to run for Bolivar and, after Capps struck out centerfielder Josh Prince and shortstop Jeff Bianchi walked toward the plate, Cline took off for second. He could have — should have — been thrown out, but the Generals paid too much attention to Jaramillo leaning off third and Cline slid in with his fist steal this season. Bianchi hit the next pitch into right, his fourth single of the night, to drive in both runners and win the game.
The city of Huntsville has been around since at least 1809, but it has only been “The Rocket City” since the late 1940s, when Democratic Senator John Sparkman helped it become the center of rocket and missile development for the U.S. Army. The nickname stuck during the 1950s after the city’s close ties to various space missions, including Explorer and Apollo flights. Today, thousands of NASA employees work in Huntsville at the Marshall Space Flight Center.
Want the answer? Davis served as the mayor of Huntsville for 20 years, five full terms from 1968 until 1988, and played an instrumental role in bringing minor league baseball to the city. He died in 1992.
And in random statistical news, the game started three minutes later than the scheduled time, the first pitch was a ball (the eighth time in 15 games, which sort of boggles the mind), the first batter hit a leadoff home run high over the wall and past the trees beyond rightfield (good way to start a game, Denny Almonte) and Kevin Campbell sang the “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a 1 minute, 23.3 seconds. Also, we ate a couple of hamburgers, loaded with pickles from the condiment stand (and, just like that, Joe Davis Stadium earns some bonus points).
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